COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, members of city council, and Police Chief Randy Scott stood in front of the Five Points fountain on Thursday to declare Five Points a safe spot in the wake of recent violence, but said more anti-crime initiatives were on the way.
Benjamin says the city's number one priority is the prevention of violent crime and he highlighted recent efforts by CPD and the city to bring down crime in the area, such as more boots on the ground and the installation of cameras.
"As a result of efforts, overall crime in Five Points is down 26 percent. Five Points is safe, but it can be safer. These streets belong to the people of Columbia and we'll make sure you and your families can walk these streets free from harm and free from fear," Benjamin said.
Benjamin also outlined several initiatives the city and police force plans on using in order to combat the issues, such as aggressive community policing, more patrol units, and focusing on DUIs and drugs.
"We will focus like a laser beam on reducing and preventing violent crime in Five Points," said Benjamin.
The press conference comes after two weekend fights and a random shooting led to several days of bad publicity for Five Points and some criticism of the tactics patrol officers take during late night hours.
The move comes two days after Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott stood in the same spot to promise an increased number of patrol officers who would take an aggressive stance against those intentionally causing trouble there.
There's been some disagreement between merchants and the police department on just how to keep the peace in the popular entertainment district. Some argue that who police are going after isn't helping the situation.
During his news conference on Tuesday, Scott said "When you have underage consumption, it's not just drinking underage. It's the assaults that occur after you've been consuming alcohol, it's the sexual assaults that occur after you have been consuming alcohol, it's the shooting incidents that occur after underage consumption has occurred."
Scott was defending an approach to security in the entertainment district that has included much emphasis on underage drinking.
Several merchants and bar owners took issue with Scott's remarks. They say muggings, gunfire and other acts of violence are inevitable if police focus on what's happening inside bars instead of deploying their forces outside.
Merchants point to scenes like one caught on video early Sunday morning at the entrance to a bar that shows half a dozen officers arrive to help check on customers. The merchants suggest that's overkill, and that police are needed elsewhere.
"I'm more concerned with what's happening outside of the bars right now," said Bobby Brown, Pour House manager, "I feel like most people will tell you they don't feel safe when they're walking from bar to bar, but they feel safe inside the bar.
"Do I believe that the underage drinking in and of itself had things to do with the violence of this past weekend? No," said Scott after meeting with the Five Points Association on Wednesday. "Do I believe officers are going to concentrate on making sure that the violence doesn't happen and people who come to perpetrate that violence and are incarcerated and put in jail? Absolutely."
Scott said he plans to have more officers working in the area this weekend. He also plans to beef up patrols on October 6 when Georgia plays USC.
Meanwhile, a group of USC students has created a Facebook group called Fight Back for Five Points to try to "get back the 5points area we once knew and felt safe in." The group has over 6,000 followers.
If you know anything about the incidents in Five Points over the weekend, you are urged to call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.