Five Points violence

Five Points shootings follow a pattern

nophillips@thestate.comNovember 16, 2013 

— ONLINE

The most dangerous time and place to be in Five Points is around 2 a.m. on a Sunday, standing somewhere between the 700 and 800 blocks of Harden Street, an analysis by The State newspaper shows.

Since 2010, there have been 11 incidents of gun violence in the popular entertainment district, according to Columbia Police Department incident reports. A newspaper analysis showed patterns in the times, locations and circumstances of those shootings.

Two of the shootings were anomalies. One was a Wednesday afternoon suicide, the other a Tuesday morning car chase started by the S.C. Highway Patrol that ended in a Five Points bank parking lot.

Of the remaining nine shootings:

• Seven happened on Saturdays and Sundays between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.

• Five happened on the 700 and 800 blocks of Harden Street.

• Two happened where other streets intersect with the 700 and 800 blocks of Harden Street.

• Eight involved fights that led to shootouts.

• Four people were injured, two in the 700 block of Harden.

In six instances, vehicles and buildings were damaged.

Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago said he has looked at the same reports and determined that 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday is the time a shooting is most likely to occur.

“That to me is stampede time,” Santiago said. “We absolutely need to be on our toes during those few hours.”

These types of analyses are performed almost daily by law enforcement, as they make decisions on where to focus on crime.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said his deputies constantly review crime reports to look for common denominators.

“You start to go dot, dot, dot,” Lott said.

Lott said his deputies found the same consistencies when they conducted operations earlier this month in Five Points.

For Five Points, that would mean concentrating police efforts on those two blocks of Harden Street after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, Lott said.

“You don’t spend your resources and time six blocks away,” he said. “You go to where the trouble spots are.”

Same place, different people

Five Points long has had multiple personalities.

By day, its cafes serve as gathering spots for college students, business professionals and old friends to lunch or have coffee. Locals and tourists shop for everything from cocktail dresses to bongs to high-end stereo equipment.

In the evening, young professionals head to happy hours at bars while an older, more established crowd dines at some of the neighborhood’s upscale restaurants.

As the night grows longer, the crowd gets younger and larger.

On Friday and Saturday nights, thousands of college students, off-duty military and other 20-somethings flood the streets. They fill bars and parade up and down the sidewalks to see and be seen.

It is the early morning hours when many of the bars begin closing and their intoxicated patrons head home that bring the most danger.

And it is at its worst early Sunday morning, when every bar must close at 2 a.m.

People interested in Five Points have analyzed the data as they search for solutions to end the random violence. In October, USC president Harris Pastides declared Five Points unsafe after midnight, after 18-year-old USC freshman Martha Childress was paralyzed by a stray bullet.

Shots fired

The violence seemed to increase in 2010, when three shootings were reported, the analysis showed. Only one shooting was reported in 2011, but they picked back up in 2012 when four were reported.

This year, there have been three reported incidents of gun violence.

In at least eight incidents, shots came after groups of men began fighting, including the first report from May 2010.

In that case, police reported hearing 10 to 15 gunshots coming from an area near the Five Points post office on Greene Street. When they arrived, officers saw people running in all directions and shell casings from different caliber guns on the ground. One person was taken to a hospital to have a bullet removed from his left leg. Two bars and several cars were damaged in the hail of gunfire.

A report from Feb. 17 of this year also is typical. In that case, a reporting officer wrote that he saw 15 to 20 men fighting on the 800 block of Harden Street between The Library nightclub and Breakers Bar & Grill. Officers tried to break up the fight but as soon as they would pull two men apart, another fight would break out between different men, the report said.

When the fighters began running away, someone fired eight to 10 shots from a large caliber pistol. Officers chased a few suspects seen behind a gas station on the 800 block of Harden but were unable to catch them. No one was injured and no property was damaged, the report said.

Lott said it is no coincidence that so many shootings happen near the 700 and 800 blocks of Harden Street, because that is the location of The Library nightclub, near the Harden and Greene streets intersection. Lott recently called The Library a hangout for a nationally recognized criminal street gang.

“That’s the magnet,” Lott said.

The Library’s owner, Justin Kershner, said last week his club is closed indefinitely. But late last week a moving truck was parked outside the club and people were moving things in and out of the building.

Lott also conducted traffic safety checkpoints after midnight earlier this month at two Harden Street intersections to look for drunk drivers, guns and drugs. He made that decision after reviewing traffic patterns and seeing that Harden Street was the scene for most violence.

But Richland County Sheriff’s deputies are not in Five Points every weekend.

The bulk of the policing falls to the Columbia Police Department.

Santiago said he puts a concentration of officers in that area on Harden Street. Some are in uniform, others in plain clothes. On occasion, officers watch the streets from the roofs of nearby businesses.

Santiago said he also relies on security cameras to track crime suspects. The Five Points area is saturated with nearly 200 video cameras.

This weekend, an officer is watching live footage from Five Points cameras.

‘We’ve got issues late at night’

Amy Beth Franks, executive director of the Five Points Association, said her organization has looked at the data to form its position against mandatory 2 a.m. bar closings. The group opposes the uniform bar closing hour because it pushes the crowds onto the streets at the very hour when violence is more likely to happen.

“Just because the bars are closed doesn’t mean the party is over,” Franks said. “They stand around and decide what their next move is. They serve as a way to camouflage the criminal element.”

Franks also said the analysis shows that it is unfair to make the general statement that Five Points is not safe.

Franks, who was at work at 7:30 Thursday night when she was interviewed for the article, said it hurts to hear people say they are afraid to go to the area’s shops, restaurants and bars.

“It’s absolutely not fair to say Five Points is not safe,” she said. “We’ve got issues late at night. It kills me when people say that.”

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Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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