Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook told a City Council committee Tuesday that crime is down 10.5 percent so far this year, compared with the same period last year. That includes decreases in robbery, breaking and entering, motor vehicle theft and larceny.
Still, there were increases for the period in some categories of more violent crime, including rape and aggravated assault in neighborhoods including Earlewood, Eau Claire, Elmwood, Bethel Bisop, Hyatt Park/ Kennan Terrace and Greenview .
The public safety committee met with leadership from the Columbia Police Department, Columbia Fire Department and the Columbia Municipal Courts early Tuesday to discuss mid-year reports and recommendations.
Holbrook said while the overall decrease so far in the year is good news, he is concerned about police staffing, citing 21 recent resignations and a total of 26 openings at the department. There have been five new officers immediately ready to be hired.
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“We are making progress in hiring,” Holbrook said. “We are maintaining status quo right now, and that is not a position we want to be in.”
Holbrook said that the department has 31 officers who cannot be put in the field, including 14 officers in field training, nine officers in the Criminal Justice Academy and nine officers in light training.
The Metro Region of the city, which includes Main Street, the Vista, Five Points and University of South Carolina campus, has seen a total decrease of 128 offenses in homeless crime activity from 2013 to June 2014.
“You can look at that a couple of ways,” Holbrook said. “One would be that crime is down, and that’s a good thing. The other would be that are we enforcing at the level that needs to be enforced, and that is to be determined. We know with the Hub and with the students that are going to be moving downtown and continued development in the Vista, that we need to grow with our city.”
City Chief Judge Dana Turner said that a homeless court would be worthwhile.
It would be a pretrial intervention program for homeless people who violate city ordinances to receive help.
“They are doing community service, they are going to whatever meetings they need to attend, whether they are AA meetings or drug-related meetings,” Turner said. “Those folks who are repeat offenders, who are homeless, but are not doing anything about absolving their homelessness, will not be appropriate candidates for the homeless court.”
Turner said that the homeless court would not happen at the courthouse, rather at a shelter, causing concern among judges and court room officers.
The public safety committee also discussed concerns with city noise ordinances and fireworks.
Columbia’s noise ordinance prohibits any noise over 50 decibels after 10 p.m.
Josh McDuffie, of the Cottontown neighborhood, said that fireworks from the Columbia Blowfish game were in violation of the ordinance.
“The city has a responsibility to enforce the noise ordinance all over the city during the quiet hours, but an even greater responsibility to ensure that city facilities aren’t the source of the nuisance,” McDuffie said.
Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said that professional firework displays require a permit, but the permit does not mention the city ordinance.
Jenkins said that the department has a unit at every one of the firework displays to make sure that it follows safety protocols.