Crime & Courts

74 arrested during county, city gun violence reduction initiative

This week, Richland deputies responded to a scene where 42 shots were fired, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.

“That’s when the community becomes involved and they need to call us,” Lott said. “When they hear shots fired, they might not know exactly where it’s at, they might not see anyone, but they still need to call us.”

Focusing on community involvement with reducing gun violence and theft as well as locking up repeat offenders were two reasons for the success of the Gun and Violent Crime Reduction Initiative, Lott and Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said Wednesday afternoon.

The initiative took more than 1,400 guns off the streets and assisted in dropping the number of reported stolen guns to below a thousand in a year, the agencies reported.

The sheriff’s department and Columbia police began coordinating on the initiative in April 2017, freeing up their beat cops and detectives to communicate in order to bring down the number of guns circulating in the county and city. Officers began focusing on repeat offenders and talking with neighborhood residences to see who caused the trouble in their areas.

Enforcement was one part of the initiative while the second part was an educational component focused on pushing people to remove firearms from their cars and to lock them up safely.

Successes prompted the departments to continue the initiative, Lott said. After taking in 1,463 illegal guns and seeing a reduction from 1,029 to 922 in stolen gun reports from April 2018 to April 2019, the initiative proved it should stick around a while longer.

While homicides ticked upwards in the city, aggravated assaults from guns were down, Holbrook said. People getting hit by bullets was down 20 percent, he said. He gave some of the credit for that decrease to the initiative.

“We’ve got to continue to emphasize securing your guns and not allowing your vehicle to be a gun vault,” Holbrook said. “We’ve got to reduce opportunities of guns falling into the hands of people who are intent on doing evil and hurting folks.”

Police arrested 74 people on gun charges in the county and city during the coordinated effort. Some were arrested multiple times. Prosecutors have worked with law enforcement officials to “aggressively prosecute” people identified as “trigger pullers,” Holbrook said.

Virtually all those arrested were young, black men, which Lott said reflected the communities that called about gun violence.

“We go out and we get people who are breaking the law, who got illegal guns and are committing crimes,” Lott said. “The African American community is fed up with it. ... They’re tired of gunshots in their neighborhoods and tired of people shooting in their communities and they want something done.”

Despite the initiative’s success, Lott said the nearly 1,000 stolen guns proved “we got to do a better job.”

By “we,” he meant citizens and law enforcement.

“We still have gun violence in our communities, too many guns out there, too many guns being stolen, too many shots being fired, too many people being shot,” Lott said. “We still got a lot of work to do.”

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC

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.