COLUMBIA, SC — Columbia police will have double the number of officers in Five Points Thursday night, as thousands head there after the University of South Carolina’s first home football game, the interim police chief said Friday.
And for Thursday’s opener and the other six home games this season, two officers will be assigned to each block in the entertainment district, patrolling on foot and wearing traffic vests to increase visibility, interim chief Ruben Santiago said.
Officers also will be patrolling Five Points and surrounding neighborhoods in police cars.
The strategy is an approach to make officers noticeable, he said.
“The idea is, I don’t want people to not see a police officer when they’re down there,” Santiago said.
The increased visibility of officers is a carryover from last fall, when a shooting and two mob assaults after a Sept. 23 home game against Missouri prompted a public outcry over safety concerns in the entertainment district and led to more officers and patrols for the remaining home games that season.
Normally, 10 to 15 officers are assigned to Five Points, Santiago said, and he anticipates at least doubling those numbers for the first game, though he did not provide a specific number. Santiago said he will make adjustments to the number of officers in Five Points on future game days as needed.
There also will be increased police presence in all hospitality districts, including the Vista, for Thursday’s opener, Santiago said. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. against the University of North Carolina.
Typically, an increased police presence after a football game means overtime costs. But the amount for the upcoming game was not known Friday.
Santiago said officers’ focus is going to be keeping people safe, adding he doesn’t want officers to look like they are there to get people in trouble.
“We don’t condone underage drinking at all, but our focus in Five Points is going to be safeguarding the people,” Santiago said, noting he wants officers to protect people from getting hurt or being robbed and to help make sure people are getting home safely.
Those heading to Five Points need to be responsible about safety, too, officials say.
“Public safety is everyone’s responsibility and it is important that people make smart choices, like safeguarding valuables in their cars to prevent auto break-ins and staying in well-lit areas and not walking alone,” Amy Beth Franks, executive director of the Five Points Association, said in an email. Alex Waelde, co-owner of Overtime Sports Bar and The Back Corner, said bars, which reach capacity when football seasons starts, will have to prove they can handle their businesses.
“This season is going to be a proving point for Five Points,” said Waelde, adding the conversations he has had with Columbia police have been positive. “We want to keep Five Points the fun, lively college district that it is,” Waelde said.
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.