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Columbia city leadership, local law enforcement respond to calls from faith organization for gun violence study

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Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 7:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Midlands faith-based organization MORE Justice is calling on the community to invest $50,000 in a gun violence prevention study that aims to address the problem at its root and offer solutions.

There have been multiple gun-related incidents in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, a student was found with an unloaded handgun at Lower Richland High School.

Over the weekend, a 20-year-old was killed, and four others were injured, in a shooting at the Greene Apartments on Pulaski Street in Columbia.

On March 7, a 14-year-old was shot and killed in a wooded area near the 2400 block of Kneece Road. According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, a 16-year-old was arrested in connection with this case.

Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said he’s open to this idea from MORE Justice, and has been in ongoing discussions with the organization about what form it may take.

“It’s not a yes, no,” he said. “There are caveats in there. And those caveats are who is going to be a partner in the deal, what’s the long-term goal and do we have enough information already that we can just build on and then do the update?”

Two years ago, Professor David Kennedy with the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College, reviewed the city’s analysis processes.

The $50,000 ask from MORE Justice is the first step in a comprehensive gun violence intervention strategy that more justice is seeking to implement in Columbia. This would fund only the problem analysis.

“I think what we’re at the crossroads now is deciding what is that?” Rickenmann said. “Is it just an update to the analysis that’s there and gives us today’s reflection over the last two years so that we have a fresh starting point, and then decide which program is the best because there’s probably five or six gun violence programs that have had success.”

When asked about the call for the study, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a statement, “[Columbia Police] Chief Holbrook and I have advised that anything this study would accomplish would be a duplication of our previous study and efforts,” he said. “Community involvement is necessary in order to address this community problem. However, spending $50,000 to repeat a study that has been done would not be beneficial.”

Columbia Police sent a statement reading:

“CPD officers have worked tirelessly during my 8-year tenure, under extraordinary times and circumstances to address violent crime and disorder in the City of Columbia. CPD’s violent crime reduction efforts that 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 (NNSC), 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.  We will continue to remain in touch with Professor Kennedy and the NNSC.”

Rickenmann said he’s willing to advocate this to council and have the city pay for a portion, but MORE Justice must have a stake in it and contribute some money toward the effort as well.

“If it’s an update, let’s move forward,” he said. “For us to have a successful program, it is a community-wide issue and it can’t just be government-funded and run. So I’ve challenged MORE Justice to put money into it.”

Rickenmann said the effort could be part of this year’s budget.

The city has already received the first batch of $27 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, and is expected to receive another $13.5 million sometime this summer.

“This is a candidate for APRA funds and other things for public safety so we have an opportunity to move forward,” Rickenmann said. “I think we really have to narrow down the scope because this money is finite, and we need to make sure whatever we invest in, that there’s a real return to the community.”

Rickenmann said he would welcome the partnership of Richland County Council on this effort.

County Council Chair Overture sent a statement reading:

“The County is always amenable to discussing ways we can enhance the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. While the County has not contemplated a gun study, we’re more than willing to collaborate with our partners at the City of Columbia, other municipalities located in the County, Solicitor Gipson, and Sheriff Lott in finding a remedy for gun violence.

Further, I think it’s important for government to engage community groups/leaders such as MORE Justice as well as others in the faith and business communities in conjuring up sustainable solutions.”

MORE Justice will meet with law enforcement and other community leaders on April 4 to discuss gun violence prevention and other issues, including affordable housing.

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