Columbia will not hire Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to run the city's police department.
Council had the votes to hire Lott until Councilman Daniel Rickenmann changed his mind.
Instead, council will appoint a commission to study the unification of the two agencies. The commission's report will be due March 15, 2011.
After public hearings and many discussions, council members had been poised, 4-3, to approve at least a 1-year contract, as proposed by Benjamin. Under that plan, Lott would have helped provide a management structure for the department. And he would have helped city leaders hire a new chief before phasing out his role.
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Council’s concerns about the police department have been many.
The department has had five chiefs, either interim or permanent, since 2007. And the city’s 2009 reported violent crimes increased 24 percent from 2008, during a time when the rest of South Carolina, and the rest of the country, saw a decrease in reported violent crime.
The FBI and the State Law Enforcement Division, also, are investigating the conduct of police officers in the Five Points area. SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd said several incidents and multiple officers are under investigation as the FBI and SLED look at patterns of behavior and police procedures. Lloyd would not say what kinds of conduct might be in question.
Before today’s vote, four of the seven council members said they wanted to unify the two law enforcement agencies, which have a history of disagreements, most notably in the 1990s, when the sheriff was preaching against the dangers of gang violence while then-Police Chief Charles Austin denied that gangs existed in the capital city.
With Rickenmann’s change of mind, the city will hire its own chief and study the idea of unification.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Lott said:
"As the Sheriff of Richland County for the past fourteen (14) years I’ve always served the law enforcement needs of the citizens of the City of Columbia. I will continue to do so as Sheriff for all citizens of Richland County. It is not appropriate for me to comment on the decision made by City Council on City government. I pledge my continued support in law enforcement matters to the City of Columbia."