Five Points business owners, residents, students and others from across Columbia spent about two hours Wednesday evening voicing their opinions on what should be done in Five Points to address violent crime.
A few of the points raised by some of the nearly 300 in attendance included:
• Being more strict on loitering
• Legislative action on reforming bond laws
• Revitalizing nearby neighborhoods
• Turning Five Points into a pedestrian area at night.
Many speakers began their comments expressing sympathy for Martha Childress, the 18-year-old USC student who was hit by a random bullet early Sunday morning while waiting by the Five Points fountain for a cab.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said the purpose of the meeting was to start a dialogue. The community has endured far too many tragedies, he said.
Alex Waelde, the founder of the Twitter account Drinking Ticket, which alerts students to police activity, aggregated more than 200 student responses on the issue through social media.
The students emphasized loitering needs to be cut out.
We dont need to be walking through people, Waelde said. Large groups of people dont need to be standing around, doing nothing, he said.
There also should be a districtwide dress code, he said. Some students also believe in an aggressive search-and-frisk approach, he said. In addition, the students believe law enforcement needs to cooperate and accept help from everybody willing to give it.
Tim Smith, president of the Five Points Association, was the last of the community speakers. He said he would like to see cooperation from the State Law Enforcement Division, Richland County Sheriffs Department, city officials and more.
Benjamin ended the meeting by saying the opinions and thoughts would be synthesized. He pointed out that some of the issues would require policy changes at the city level and at the state level.
Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said later that he took copious notes and that a lot of ideas were strategies similar to plans he is considering. Those ideas included closing off the streets and addressing loitering.
He said loitering poses challenges for law enforcement because officers have to warn people first.
Some residents, including mayoral candidate Moe Baddourah, suggested using police dogs.
But Santiago said that some of the dogs are not friendly and that they might not be the best tool for the environment.
Santiago also said other issues are not confined to law enforcement, such as adding more lighting in the area.
We need collaboration, Santiago said. It cant just be a law enforcement strategy. It has to be a community strategy.