Chief: It will take more than police efforts for people to feel Five Points is safe

nophillips@thestate.comOctober 25, 2013 

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago on Friday stands with officers and Five Points business owners as he discusses safety in Five Points and across the city.


— Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago spent an hour Friday talking about violent crime in the city and his determination to deter it.

While much of the focus of his news conference with Five Points business owners was on Five Points, Santiago also addressed everything from gun violence across the city to speeding in neighborhoods.

As for Five Points, Santiago said it would take more than policing to restore the community’s confidence that the area is safe.

Already, limbs and bushes are being trimmed in Five Points and surrounding neighborhoods, including Martin Luther King Park. He also is asking for more lighting, and the city is researching types of lights that would best suit the area.

An estimated 200 cameras capture every person’s move as they come and go in Five Points. Santiago said he would like to have some live-monitoring of those cameras but would need to be able to pay for it.

As for this weekend, Santiago said the police department would staff Five Points with 12 to 20 officers, which has been the plan since college classes started. The number of officers varies, depending on the expectations of crowd size. He thanked SLED, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department and University of South Carolina police for helping with enforcement in the area.

This weekend, police and city officials will be monitoring traffic patterns as they figure out the best routes for USC’s shuttles to drop off and pick up passengers. And Santiago called on the city’s taxi services to help improve transportation in and out of the area.

Santiago also insisted that he has never denied that gang members had started coming to Five Points to socialize and were causing problems.

“We can’t go without saying we have gang issues,” Santiago said. “I know people have a misconception that the police department and city leaders don’t want to talk about gangs. That’s not true.”

He began the news conference at Columbia Police Department headquarters by talking about two young women who were victims of random shootings in the city this year.

One, Dandra Pelzer, 24, was shot and killed on July 20 while standing with a group of people on McDuffie Street. Her parents attended the press conference but left without talking to the media.

The second victim, Martha Childress, an 18-year-old USC freshman, was paralyzed Oct. 13 while standing in a crowd at the Five Points fountain, waiting for a taxi.

There have been 63 attempted murders in Columbia thus far in 2013. Of those, 56 involved firearms. And 21 of the victims did nothing to prompt an attack that led to their injuries, Santiago said.

About half of the attempted murders were in the city’s north region, which includes Eau Claire, North Main Street and the Hyatt Park neighborhoods, he said.

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