CPD reports 52 patrol officer vacancies as crime changes in Columbia

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Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 7:56 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Columbia Police Department reports it’s understaffed and its officers are responding to more violent crimes.

Chief Skip Holbrook gave a presentation to the Columbia City Council Tuesday afternoon, ending it with data on manpower and crime.

He reported his department is budgeted for 436 sworn personnel, but only 343 of the positions are filled.

Out of the 93 vacancies, 52 are patrol officers in the streets.

This year his force is contending with 8 percent more violent crime (55 more incidents through Sept. 12), but 4 percent less crime overall (213 fewer incidents through Sept. 12).

In an interview with WIS, he said he is concerned about officer fatigue due to a lack of manpower.

“We’ve been policing with this deficiency since I got here, and we haven’t moved the needle,” he said.

He gave the council three recommendations for recruitment, moving more resources toward new facilities (to improve department workflow and appearance), more cars for officers to take home, and larger salaries.

Both Charleston and Greenville offer higher bottom salaries for starting officers:

“I think we’re at a critical point we’ve got to address,” he said.

Councilmembers appeared receptive at the meeting, giving Holbrook a standing ovation at the end of his presentation.

At-large Councilman Howard Duvall said talks have already begun about relocating the Columbia Police headquarters.

“I still want it downtown, I think it needs to be a very visible building downtown that would house the police department, and we’re actively looking at some possibilities,” he said.

The city council will not debate a new budget for several months, but Duvall said there are still state and federal funds that could be used to address some of the needs.

Mayoral candidates Daniel Rickenmann and Tameika Isaac Devine are both on the council, and both expressed their support for the chief’s requests.

Devine referenced the debate over law enforcement’s role in the aftermath of summer 2020′s protests.

“How do you invest in things that are improving the community, the safety, and the security of the community? That may mean investing in resources for law enforcement so that they do not always appear to be at odds with the community, but they are strong in the community” she said.

Devine said retaining officers should also be a point of emphasis, and suggested the city investing in homes in select neighborhoods for officers to live.

“It’s helping invest in the communities, but it’s also giving officers an opportunity to take away something that’s huge, and that’s the cost of living, whether it be rent or mortgage,” she said.

Rickenmann said the issue is multi-faceted.

“It’s not just about salaries, it’s about having state of the art equipment, having the cameras systems that tie into the cars, it’s both safe for the public and for the officers,” he said.

He suggested strategically putting department resources where they’re most needed.

“If you look at the resources that are dispatched, between police, fire, and EMS, there are certain hotspots. Being able to dispatch to those and deal with those in a more effective manner, and being able to get them to the resources, that’s why it needs to be centralized based on actual calls,” he said.

Fellow candidates Sam Johnson and Moe Baddourah expressed support as well.

Baddourah sent WIS a statement which reads in part:

This is excellent news. Chief Holbrook’s recommendations dovetail nicely with my community policing platform. Increased police presence together with an adequately paid police force contributes to lower crime rates, restores the public trust in our police force, increases commerce, and makes for safer, more vibrant communities, It will also help retain officers and fill the current vacancies in the police department. Growth comes to a community that is safe.

As Mayor, I will look at similar pay increases to other departments and staff needs.

Johnson’s office sent a statement reading:

“We fully support Chief Holbrook’s request, but it’s just a start. The fact is that CPD has 93 sworn officer vacancies and 128 vacancies total. That’s a crisis and, with 40 years combined experience on Council, my opponents haven’t done anything about it. We need a 10-year contract with step pay raises, take-home cars, mortgage assistance, and more and we need it now.”

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