Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin vowed Thursday to make Five Points safer.
Violent offenses are our No. 1 priority, said Benjamin, who stood at Five Points main fountain in front of 14 burly city police officers, standing at parade rest, their tasers and semiautomatic pistols visible in holsters at their sides.
The mayor spoke at a news conference just days after the popular nightclub and restaurant districts most recent outbreak of violence gunfire and fights over the weekend. After the mayor spoke, police Chief Randy Scott announced one arrest and said police were looking for two Benedict College students allegedly involved in the violence.
After the investigation is completed, the full results will be made public, Benjamin said. Let me assure you we are on top of it.
Benjamin said the city will step up Five Points enforcement in these areas:
• Controlling access in and out of the district from adjoining neighborhoods
• Stepping up crackdowns on drugs and DUIs
• Focusing on any gangs that might be roaming Five Points
Shutting down bars whose business model is over serving underage drinkers
In the past 15 months, the city has increased crime prevention efforts in Five Points, Benjamin said. More police and surveillance cameras have been added. We have dramatically increased overall police presence with more boots on the ground.
Overall crime is down 26 percent in Five Points, he said.
However, violent crime is up 22 percent in the first 81/2 months of this year, compared with the same period last year, police statistics show.
Five Points is safe, but it can be safer, he said.
During the day, Benjamin said, Five Points has an easy-going village atmosphere, with students, shoppers, diners and business owners.
But at night, Five Points changes character, Benjamin said. Some 20,000 revelers flood the district, particularly on football game days, he said.
Five Points is unique in that it is a nighttime destination not only for students from nearby colleges, but also for large numbers of young people elsewhere in central South Carolina, as far away as Aiken and Florence, Benjamin said.
If you add binge drinking to that equation, it can create a very challenging situation, the mayor said.
Benjamin urged citizens to help police. Last weekend, when violence flared, many people who saw it unfolding took pictures with their cellphones instead of calling 911 to report the crimes, Benjamin said. He urged people to call 911 if they see something suspicious.
If you see something thats suspicious, we need you to call . . . not videotape the event or sit around rubbernecking, Benjamin said.
On Oct. 6, when USC has a home football game, Benjamin said, you will see an incredible (police) presence down here.
Benjamin said increased police in Five Points will not mean fewer police elsewhere in the city.
Columbia residents who spoke at the news conference told Benjamin they didnt feel safe.
Will Ponder told Benjamin that he and his wife and their two preschool children moved to Five Points from the nearby Shandon neighborhood 18 months ago because it was such a special, walkable urban community with establishments like Starbucks and Garibaldis restaurant.
Now, Ponder said, his family regrets their move. I hear you saying Five Points is a safe place. Its not. ... I live two blocks away. I hope you guys can bring safety to this area so I dont have to move to Lexington.
Benjamin told Ponder he hopes the new initiatives will make him feel safer.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.