ALTHOUGH IT’S appropriate and necessary for Columbia police to launch a swift and forceful response to the recent, ugly spate of crime in Five Points, they must not do so at the expense of other areas, some of which have equally troubling — if not greater — problems.
While Five Points is hardly the city’s most crime-ridden area, it saw an uptick in violent offenses through mid-September compared with the same period last year. But it’s the brutality of some of the crimes that have occurred in the eclectic village that is most disconcerting and demands attention. This isn’t just about ensuring that bar and restaurant patrons are safe and businesses’ bottom lines are protected, although that’s reason enough. It’s also about ensuring overall public safety and protecting the image of Five Points and the city as safe places to live and visit.
City leaders and Police Chief Randy Scott have said they will take aggressive action following the random firing of a gun and two mob fights. Among other things, they will increase patrols and will crack down of drugs and DUIs, gang activity and under-age drinking. The chief has pledged to station 40 officers in Five Points after the Oct. 6 football game between South Carolina and Georgia.
Some longer-term remedies that have been mentioned but not adopted include the use of police dogs, street closings and a no-exceptions 2 a.m. bar closing.
Ultimately, city police must not forget the responsibility to provide adequate protection across the board — whether in Five Points or North Columbia. It would be unfair and irresponsible for the city to pour large amounts of time and resources in Five Points to the detriment of other areas.
To do so would invite understandable criticism. Particularly considering the necessary but extensive time and effort spent addressing crime in Five Points over the past couple of years. The city has adopted a teen curfew, increased patrols and implemented a 2 a.m. bar closing requirement that allows some to opt out if they meet city criteria. The Police Department has spent $90,000 in overtime pay in Five Points so far this year, Chief Scott said.
Police shoulder much of the load in addressing crime, and those who break the law deserve what’s coming to them. But law enforcement can’t solve this problem alone. With youth violence and under-age drinking being among the concerns, college and high school officials as well as parents and community organizations must step in. Although bars and restaurants already are taking some precautions, they must do more. And patrons must drink responsibly and be more aware of their surroundings and of the fact that danger could lurk right around the corner, if not right outside the door.
While the goal of many who frequent Five Points is to shop, eat, socialize and have a good time, we must face an uneasy reality: Though no level of crime or violence is tolerable, a busy night spot where there is a concentration of drinking establishments invites a certain amount of mayhem and lawlessness. The challenge before city and Five Points leaders and the greater community is to create as safe an environment as possible.