SAFETY IN COLUMBIA

Five Points crowded but tame after USC’s big night

Well-mannered fans hit the urban village as numerous police keep a close watch

mlucas@thestate.comOctober 7, 2012 

  • COMING MONDAY in The State

    A more in-depth look at policing Five Points on a busy Saturday night.

At the bottom: Read Reporter Noelle Phillips' Tweets from Five Points on Saturday night.

Revelers began to stream into Five Points, with its heightened police presence, soon after USC’s huge win over Georgia on Saturday night.

Thousands of Carolina fans -- police said 8,000 people -- poured into the entertainment district next door to USC's downtown campus, as police patrolling the streets made it clear they were out in force.

Sidewalks were shoulder-to-shoulder, and while some bars were closed for overcrowding, people mostly seemed to be having good-natured fun.

By the end of the night, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said the temporary staging area saw 34 arrests, none of them for a violent offense. That did not include any tickets written “on the street” or arrests made by officers, or highway patrol running DUI checkpoints in surrounding areas.

Columbia police officers wearing yellow reflective vests – two and three to a corner – patrolled on foot. Police also had an observation tower up near the Five Points fountain.

The increased police presence follows a shooting and two fights that occurred within a two-hour window early the morning of Sept. 23 and shots fired Sept. 28. Public outrage over the increased violence followed the Sept. 23 incidents, fueled in part by a video showing one of the fights and a young man who lay beaten and bloodied in the aftermath.

The department had about 57 officers out patrolling Saturday, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said. And officers from neighboring departments were helping.

By 2 a.m., as bars began emptying out, revelers began pouring out onto the street. Many of them seemed to walk right out into a rude awakening. Police cars with long range acoustic devices, or LRADs mounted to their hoods, moved slowly north down Harden Street, blasting sounds much louder than sirens. Crowds moved immediately. LRADS, said one officer are the same thing military ships used to force Somali pirates off boats.

Those that still needed a little encouragement were informed of what could happen if they continued to loiter.

“Ladies, let's find some place to go or I'll give you a place to stay tonight,” shouted one officer as a group of three young women stood not moving on Harden Street.

While many went someplace else, many more trailed down both sides of Harden Street toward Waffle House and Cookout which were still open.

Alexis Griffith, 21, of Columbia, sat on a concrete wall across from Cookout hanging out with friends. Nearby the Food Lion parking lot filled up with cars blasting music. Doors stayed open as people went from one to another.

“It's part fashion, part car show,” she said.

Griffith, who often goes to Five Points on the weekends, said when Five Points closes, a lot of people head to Cookout. When Cookout closes she said they head home or to other houses, often staying out until 4 or 5 in the morning.

“For me it's about people watching,” she said. “You see a whole lot of stuff that TV can't provide.”

By 1 a.m., it seemed like the party had just started at Lucky's on the corner of Harden and Greene streets. An open-air dance floor that only an hour earlier had only a couple of people dancing was now filling up with people.

“It's gotten a lot busier in the last hour or so,” said Chris Hill who was providing security for his friend who was DJ'ing. Hill's job was to keep an eye on “DJ Mix Masterson's” equipment and make sure no one accosted him while he worked.

“It's easily doubled in the last hour,” he said.

Hill said the crowd, while growing by the minute, had been mostly well-behaved.

“You have your typical drunk college kid stuff but that's it,” he said.

Earlier in the evening, as Carolina fans sat watching big screen TVs at bars and restaurants, officers gathered at a temporary command post set up on Pavilion Avenue just behind the Rite Aid on Harden Street to be briefed.

“It's like a hurricane coming,” Scott said at about 11 p.m. “Right now it's calm, but it won't be like that in about an hour.”

By 12:30 a.m., the police department had only made just over a dozen arrests – mostly for public drunkenness and open containers, department spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said. One person was arrested for urinating in one of the Five Points fountains.

Down at Red Hot Tomatoes on Harden Street, bartender Zack Darringer said business was steady.

“There are a lot more Carolina fans out here tonight,” he said smiling.

Darringer said he didn’t think the police presence was much of an issue for regulars to his establishment or Five Points but could have an impact on keeping under age drinkers away.

Many young people and some bar owners have criticized the police, saying they have focused too much on underage drinkers and not enough on more serious crime such as robberies and assaults. But police have said the people who commit more serious crimes prey on underage and inexperienced drinkers who over-indulge and let their guard down. If those offenders know that Five Points is the place where under-aged drinkers cluster, that’s where they’ll go, too, police said.

In addition to revelers moving about on the sidewalks, Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah and Columbia Development Corp. executive director Fred Delk were out walking the sidewalk along Harden Street.

The two said they just wanted to come down and check things out.

“As the public safety committee chairman, I want to know what it's like down here,” Baddourah said. “I want to know what police go through.”

Both Baddourah and Delk said while the increased activity and numbers were good for business, it was still important to maintain safety. So far, both thought everyone looked to be having a good time and seemed to be behaving themselves.

“I feel comfortable out here,” Baddourah said. “I feel a lot of energy out here. It reminds me of South Beach (in Miami).”

While the game was still going on, Olin Jenkins of Columbia sat relaxing and doing some work on a laptop at an outdoor table in front of Delaney's Pub on Saluda Avenue. The contrast between 10 p.m. and when the district began overflowing with wall-to-wall crowds at midnight was startling.

A regular at Delaney’s, Jenkins said he felt perfectly comfortable in Five Points, but just the same, would probably be packing up his gear and bicycling home to his Shandon apartment “before the crowds hit.”

“I feel 100 percent safe here,” Jenkins said pointing to his table at Delaney's. “But just one block up, I do not,” he said, saying it was the bars along Harden Street that made him concerned.

Over at Breakers Bar and Grill on the corner of Harden and Greene streets, fans cheered and clapped in the outdoor patio area, chanting, “USC, USC.”

News of increased violence in the area had Molly Ferguson, a recent USC graduate who no longer lives in Columbia, concerned.

“Honestly, I'm worried about my friends who are still here,” said Ferguson as she sat outside of Breakers.

While Ferguson was glad to see an increased police presence, she was critical of the police department.

“I think the cops need to focus on the violence and keeping people safe more than busting under-age people” for drinking, Ferguson said.

Nicole Oliver, an employee of Breakers and a USC junior, was also glad of the presence and said she could already tell a difference in how the crowd behaved.

Reporter Noelle Phillips' Tweets from Saturday Night in Five Points

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service