University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides said he expects Five Points will be safer with added policing this weekend than when a freshman was shot and paralyzed more than a week ago.
“How safe? I don’t know,” Pastides told The State on Thursday. “A high level of confidence in overall safety will take longer. Somewhere, I hope my confidence will grow.”
The president sent an email to USC’s 31,000 students announcing a shuttle service, starting this weekend, along with added patrols by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
“While I am guardedly optimistic about the prospects for a safe and enjoyable weekend, the security issues that exist in Five Points after midnight cannot be fixed in two weeks,” Pastides wrote in an email sent to students. “The status quo is not acceptable, and all parties must be willing to embrace change to protect our community.”
The university is developing solutions – including plans to add lighting and call boxes – but more needs to be done outside of USC’s responsibilities to prevent crime, Pastides said. That includes better law-enforcement coordination, court system improvements and community outreach, he said.
“Those are the kinds of things that are, ultimately, going to convince me that it might be time to say that Five Points is safe again,” Pastides told The State.
The extra policing has begun.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he has assigned gang investigators to Five Points for the weekend – an unusual move outside of a busy football weekend. The State Law Enforcement Division also brought in extra agents last week to bolster the Columbia Police Department’s enforcement efforts in the nightlife hub, which has seen several high-profile crimes in recent years.
Lott agreed with the USC president’s assessment that Five Points is not safe after midnight but the area will be more safe. “Five Points has got some very serious issues that are being addressed.”
USC took its first step by starting shuttles from 9:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., on Fridays and Saturdays to Five Points.
Pastides said he expects students to start using the shuttles gradually. The football team is playing in Missouri on Saturday. Five Points crowds are expected to grow on Nov. 3 when the Gamecocks return to Columbia for the first time in nearly a month.
“If you come back and look at a year from now, I would hope the buses would be very popular,” Pastides said.
The shuttles will drop off and pick up students at the Five Points fountain on Harden Street where Martha Childress was shot while waiting for a taxi at 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 13.
The 18-year-old from Greenville was not the intended target. Police arrested a Columbia man in connection with the shooting that occurred during an argument.
The school suspended a shuttle service three years because students were not using it. Instead, USC made deals with taxi companies for free rides for students within a five-mile radius of Five Points, but students have complained about long waits.
Cost figures were not available Thursday for the shuttles, and added lighting and call boxes planned between Five Points and campus, but money will not be an issue, Pastides told The State.
Pastides eased off his suggestion last week for earlier mandatory bar closings, citing possible crowding problems from patrons emptying at the same time onto the streets.
But talks have begun about possibly closing Five Points streets to traffic on weekends nights – a move opposed by merchants.
Pastides said officials can solve concerns about parking, transportation and the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. The USC shuttles would be more needed if Five Points becomes a pedestrian-only zone on weekend nights.
“I am not going to be dissuaded from continuing to pressure our community to look at this,” he said.
Pastides said the school also will support more events on campus.
Starting at 10 p.m., an hour when many USC students might head to Five Points, several hundred filled the intramural field near the school’s wellness center to listen to rock band Seventy Six and Sunny and eat free food.
Sororities which helped organize the concert handed out ribbons with garnet and turquoise, the color of Childress’ sorority, in which she was initiated hours before her shooting. Her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, had large cards for people to sign for her and a box for donations to her medical fund.
“I believe in our community, whether we’re getting together to beat Clemson or for something like this,” said Zeta president Rachel Patton. “Our strength is hard to miss.”
Online Extra: In Five Points
The line to get into the concert stretched almost to Blossom Street at times as dozens of students waited to enter the intramural fields. Sorority presidents handed students entering the concert white wallet-sized cards with emergency phone numbers and signs of alcohol poisoning.
The band took a break so that five of Childress' sorority sisters could share thoughts about the freshman.
Then they videotaped the crowd shouting "We love you, Martha" to send to Chuldress, who tweeted earlier in the evening, "I seriously go to the best school and have the best sisters a girl could ask for! Thank you so much for everything y'all are doing for me!"
The Zeta house is filled with flowers and cards for Childress -- an overflow from her Columbia hospital stay. Childress is now at an Atlanta rehabilitation clinic.
Patton, the Zeta president, suggested people who want to send flowers could donate to the fund set up for Childress' medical expenses.
"Everyone has been so supportive through this," Patton said. In Five Points around midnight, bar owners and managers said business was just slightly off from a typical Thursday night, though a cab dispatcher for Five Points said student ride requests were down dramatically.
They all understood some students chose to honor Childress, but they expect the USC crowd to return to normal by the weekend.
Delaney's on Saluda Avenue had a handful of patrons, though a manager said the bar was busier earlier in the evening. A bartender at Kildare's on Harden Street said crowds were a little smaller than normal.
Pinch on Harden Street was filled with students singing to Taylor Swift's "22" soon after midnight though the bar usually has more people on a Thursday, owner Ryan Kay said. He did not think the students would stay away from Five Points for long even if more events are held on campus like the concert.
"This place is part of your college experience. Partying at a bar is part of college," he said as the last shouts of "22" ended.