COLUMBIA, SC — The Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department are on the verge of cooperating on a plan for policing Five Points, which the city now manages alone.
Sheriff Leon Lott, interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago, USC Police Chief Chris Wuchenich, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson, Columbia city manager Teresa Wilson and representatives from the S.C. attorney general’s office met Wednesday afternoon to discuss a strategy for Five Points.
No firm plan has been created, but Lott told Santiago to write an operational order for using deputies in Five Points and he would see to it that it happens.
“You just don’t throw officers out on the street and not give them a mission and a plan of what you expect them to do,” Lott said.
Santiago said he welcomed any additional manpower for fighting crime.
Lott has gone into the city limits when he thought a problem was not being addressed by police. Examples include during a spate of drug-induced date rapes in Five Points in 2005; several crime waves in the Greenview neighborhood in north Columbia; and in 2009, when photographs of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps allegedly smoking pot, also in Five Points, went viral on the Internet.
In Greenview, the catalyst was the community, Lott said.
The community requested assistance and put an operation plan together for specific assistance, he said.
Wednesday’s meeting addressed more than a short-term fix for Five Points, Santiago said. “We want to figure out the long-term systemic issues,” he said.
A solution requires identifying the problem, coming up with an operations plan, then addressing the problem, Lott said.
There has never been an operational plan in Five Points that involves the Sheriff’s Department, Lott said.
Limiting access and monitoring the people coming into Five Points could help, Lott said.
He suggested closing down the streets in Five Points, similar to the St. Patrick’s Day setup, which would limit access to cars and people coming into the area.
The consensus at the meeting was supportive of that idea, said Mayor Steve Benjamin, who also attended. In the past, the Five Points Association, which represents merchants, has resisted the idea.
Lott also said his gang unit, eight officers who specialize in gang-related crimes such as identifying gang members and investigating gangs, could help.
“It’s not one thing that will solve the problem,” Lott said. “It takes a coordinated effort.”