Faith coalition calls for gun violence study and direction to curb the violence

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 8:02 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Data from Richland County law enforcement agencies shows gun violence is on the rise, and a group of faith-based leaders is calling on those agencies to do more about it.

MORE Justice hosted a news conference at Reid Chapel AME Church in Columbia on Monday and called for a formal study of gun violence in the area.

It’s a coalition of 35 congregations in the Columbia area.

Co-President Rev. Carey Grady said law enforcement agencies are acting, but may not know the full picture.

“They tell us they are doing all the things that gun violence intervention says to do. And so our response was, if that was the case, possibly something is not going right. It’s not about not good leadership, it’s just about, let’s sit down and get a problem analysis from the experts, outside of the local community, and see if they can pinpoint what’s happening,” he said.

Data from CPD and RCSD show gun violence, particularly gun murders, have outpaced years past through mid-May.

Grady said MORE Justice would want to see the city of Columbia commission a study from the National Network for Safe Communities by John Jay College. The network claims to have helped curb gun violence in cities across the U.S. and abroad.

He said the price tag for the study would be $50,000, but worth it.

“What’s happening now is everyone is we have so many organizations yes let’s do something about gun violence, but unless we have a problem analysis, everyone is shooting in the wind,” he said.

He expressed some frustration with CPD and RCSD for reluctance to act on a study.

Leaders of the community group are hosting a press conference to respond to calls from officials to get involved in fighting gun violence.

RCSD spokesperson Major Maria Yturria sent WIS a statement reading:

“Sheriff Lott was not presented with or asked to participate in any gun violence strategic plan only the City of Columbia was, however, he agrees with the decision of the Mayor, City Manager, and Chief Holbrook not to participate in that particular part. The demand of fifty thousand dollars for their plan is money that can be spent on other efforts.

MORE Justice has been working with Sheriff Lott on the CIT training and mental health issues. RCSD and CPD have both gone above many other agencies in addressing the mental health and de-escalation training.”

CPD spokesperson Jennifer Timmons sent a statement reading:

“While the Columbia Police Department values community partnerships, the group’s request of a $50,000 commitment to be paid to a consultant to analyze violent crime in Columbia is not feasible.

CPD officers have worked tirelessly during my 7-year tenure, under extraordinary times and circumstances to address violent crime and disorder in the City of Columbia.

CPD’s violent crime reduction efforts have been highlighted and discussed on the local, state, and national level, are evidence-based, and follow national best practices.

Two years ago, in conjunction with CPD establishing the Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CGIU) and violent crime investigative processes, we asked Professor David Kennedy with the National Network for Safe Communities, John Jay College of Criminal Justice to visit Columbia to review our analysis processes.

Those efforts are grounded in the principles of trust, fair and impartial policing, and partnerships with our citizens and other law enforcement agencies. We remain committed to these national best practices to reduce gun crime.”

It’s unclear if the call for a study will result in action, as Mayor Steve Benjamin’s office sent a statement reading:

“Last year alone, the Columbia Police Department seized over 850 illegal guns from our communities, and the real fight needs to be carried directly to the State House. Our ongoing litigation with the SC attorney general to aggressively take guns off the streets makes clear our unconditional commitment to the cause.”

“The leaders of GVI have continuously lauded the CPD’s approach to fighting gun violence, and I certainly appreciate the work of MORE Justice, but our efforts are showing significant progress. We’d love their support of Chief Holbrook’s efforts as we focus on community investment, and direct impact programs to stabilize families such as basic guaranteed income, city-wide broadband access, improved parks, and street lighting, and expanding ShotSpotter technology.”

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