Panel to propose risk assessment teams, higher bond payments

nophillips@thestate.comNovember 18, 2013 

gavel

A panel created to address bond reform and violent crime will make a presentation to City Council Tuesday on a report that recommends everything from new programs at the Columbia Police Department to proposed legislation.

The panel met Monday to review its final draft, and Robert Stewart, a former SLED chief who led the panel, said he is prepared to take it to city council for review.

Among the recommendations is a proposal that the Columbia Police Department create a risk assessment team to gather paperwork and criminal background information to present to judges at bond hearings for suspects in violent crimes. The panel recommended the risk assessment program use retired officers or employees who are not sworn officers as a way to lower the expense of the program.

The police department would have someone present at every bond hearing and would request assistance from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office as needed, the draft report said.

“It is hoped that judges will insist upon adequate presentations of information on which they can make considered decisions regarding the amount of bail and setting of appropriate conditions,” the draft report said. “The preservation of persons’ lives and well-being depend on law enforcement, prosecutors and the judiciary diligently and effectively working together in their respective roles.”

Another recommendation is a change in policy that allows defendants to make their payments to bondsmen on installment plans. Under the current system, a suspect who is given a $100,000 bond for a crime, may pay a small percentage to be released from jail, according to the report.

The panel has been discussing the issue for months but members were confused over how such a small payment was allowed to happen, Stewart said. A few members met with the S.C. Department of Insurance, which regulates bondsmen, and an association that represents them. The down payment system was confirmed in that meeting, he said.

The panel will call on the insurance department to change its regulations so suspects have higher minimum payments. If installment plans are to continue, the panel wants a payment period to have a specified length of time so criminals don’t string out small payments for years while they continue to commit more crimes, the report said.

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