The Columbia Police Department is planning an almost unprecedented show of force this weekend in Five Points as it prepares for massive crowds in town for the USC-Georgia football game.
The department will spend more than $11,000 on overtime for 50 officers, including members of the departments gang unit, drug suppression team and a new firearms prevention team.
In addition, officers from the USC Law Enforcement Division, Richland County Sheriffs Department, S.C. Highway Patrol and Fort Jacksons military police will be on hand for a massive crowd expected in the entertainment district Saturday night after the Gamecocks football game.
Assistant Police Chief Les Wiser presented the departments preliminary plan Tuesday to City Council. The plan is evolving as he and other police officials continue planning for the weekend, he said.
The plan also calls for barricades, DUI checkpoints and observation towers to keep the crowd under control. Police will have a dedicated 911 dispatcher and police radio channel for the night.
And the department will keep patrol cars in neighborhoods surrounding Five Points, he said. People celebrating in Five Points can expect to see police in cars, on foot and on three-wheeled electric scooters as well as a bus that will serve as a command post and three paddy wagons to corral those who have been arrested.
The Gamecocks will play Georgia in front of a sellout crowd of 82,250 people. In addition to those inside the stadium, thousands of other people stay in the tailgating areas, Wiser said. As a result, police are preparing for people to flood Five Points and the Vista after the game to continue their celebrations.
Of course, we want everybody to have a good time, Wiser said. We just dont want them to have an irresponsible time.
Jennifer Timmons, the departments spokeswoman, said the law enforcement presence wont be as heavy as what people see during the St. Patricks Day Festival in Five Points. But it will be unprecedented for the department in Chief Randy Scotts three-year tenure.
The department will keep a tally of other expenses from the weekend, including gasoline for patrol cars, barricades and even workers compensation expenses should an officer be injured, Wiser said.
The pace were going to be working at and the pace we worked at last weekend we cannot sustain for the long term, Wiser said. Its expensive, and its draining on our people.
The beefed-up law enforcement presence comes after a shooting and two mob assaults within two hours on Sept. 23 that created a public outcry over safety concerns in the popular entertainment district at USCs doorstep. Police and the Five Points Association, which represents the neighborhoods shops, bars and restaurants, have worked to assure people that they are safe when visiting the area.
The Sept. 23 incidents happened after USC beat the University of Missouri in an afternoon football game. Home games always bring big crowds to Five Points and the Vista. But police expect an especially large crowd because USC and Georgia are ranked in the top 10 and competing to win the SECs Eastern Division.
Merritt McHaffie, executive director of the Five Points Association, said she had not seen the police departments plan and could not comment on the specifics. But the association wants people to feel that Five Points is safe in spite of recent violence, she said.
At the end of the day, were concerned about making sure people are safe and our merchants are doing well, McHaffie said.
Columbia police are not limiting their attention to Five Points.
The department plans to have extra officers on duty in the Vista on Saturday night, including five who will be working overtime. And police will not sacrifice safety in other areas of the city to control the entertainment districts, Wiser said.
Benedict College also has a home football game Saturday afternoon and has a fall open house and is hosting visiting high school students, Wiser said. The department has created a firearms prevention team that will be on duty around Benedicts stadium on Two Notch Road specifically to search for illegal weapons, he said.
Once the Benedict crowd thins out, those officers will move to Five Points and the Vista, Wiser said.
Columbia City Councilman Sam Davis said people are worried that their neighborhoods will be left without protection over the weekend.
But Wiser said that will not happen.
Its important to understand were going to have regular patrols across the city, Wiser said. We will not draw from regular region patrols.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.