Crime & Courts

Richland County murders reach decade high. Sheriff says gangs aren’t the problem

Sheriff Leon Lott talks high murder rate in 2018

Sheriff Leon Lott discusses the high number of murders in Richland County during 2018 and what steps the Sheriff's Department has taken to try to stem the killings.
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Sheriff Leon Lott discusses the high number of murders in Richland County during 2018 and what steps the Sheriff's Department has taken to try to stem the killings.

Richland County had more murders in 2018 than it had in any year in the last decade, but gangs aren’t the problem, Sheriff Leon Lott said. Rather, it’s a “gang mentality.”

Thirty-five people were murdered in Richland County in 2018, Lott said, with seven of those being justifiable. Only four of those cases remain unsolved, and Lott expressed confidence they would be solved soon. The victims ranged from a 2-year-old to a 68-year-old father of 16.

The last time more than 35 people were murdered in Richland County in one year was 2007, according to the sheriff’s office.

The Sheriff’s Department arrested 38 people in connection with last year’s deaths, including two charged in what Lott described as a New Year’s Eve robbery gone bad.

“2018 went out with a bang in a bad way,” Lott said.

Of those arrested, 24 were age 25 or younger. Lott said Richland County has a problem with young people carrying guns “that don’t have a conscience” and a culture in which bullets become solutions.

He blamed a “gang mentality” in which young people, often teenagers, “live and die by the gun,” Lott said.

His department foresaw the increase in murders and took measures to prevent it, Lott said.

In April, his department began a gun seizure program that was expanded over the year and resulted in 677 guns being confiscated. The sheriff’s department worked with the Columbia Police Department, which had a similar program.

The sheriff’s department also had its violent crime and gun task forces injected with federal manpower. The Secret Service is now working with the department, which has never happened before, according to Lott.

But reducing the violence requires the community’s help, which includes involvement with youth, Lott said. Citizens also can do simple things such as not leaving guns in cars, where firearms are often stolen.

“Parents have to be parents,” Lott said.

“I’m urging, I’m begging, and I’m pleading that the community needs to get involved,” Lott said.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.


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