Public safety now at the forefront of Columbia mayor's race

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With the Columbia mayoral election just two weeks away, the question being asked of the three candidates is what will they change when it comes to public safety.

It is something the three mayoral candidates all have on their minds because it is on the minds of voters. That's clear by the questions being asked at several community forums held the past few days. What will change? Should the mayor change?

For Councilman Moe Baddourah, it's about hiring a chief to lead the Columbia Police Department and coming face-to-face with the city's gangs.

"Number one is we have to face the issue that we have a gang problem in the city of Columbia," said Baddourah. "It starts in Five Points and hits in every edge of the city, so we need to address that."

Baddourah says Mayor Steve Benjamin should have been doing more to get a chief in office.

"It's the mayor's duty to lead that search, and that responsibility to find a police chief that we can trust to carry on with other duties and responsibilities and keep our city safe," said Baddourah.

Benjamin defended himself, saying that duty is currently the responsibility of the city manager. Benjamin says a big part of his plan is pushing for bond reform that would make it tougher for repeat offenders to get out of jail.

"What we all want to see is more coordination between all agencies, and making sure that we don't have to wait for flashpoint issues to get some progress," said Benjamin.

A third candidate, Larry Sypolt, is calling for public safety improvements and says the new police chief should be the man who's already holding that job on an interim basis: Ruben Santiago.

"Regardless of investigation, he's innocent until proven otherwise and that should not hold up the future of the police department," said Sypolt.
But Sypolt says a chief won't be effective unless there's a strong mayor form of government. He points to the turnover of seven police chiefs in the last seven years and says the city needs leadership with more stability.

"We need to either merge with Richland County or need we need to have a strong mayor," said Sypolt. "Short of that, I don't think it's going to work."

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