The old year is barely gone, but Midlands law enforcement leaders already have a long list of issues they want to see addressed in 2016.
Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook and Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott spoke with The State during the last week of December about lessons learned in 2015 and big issues on their departments’ radars for the new year. So what’s on their minds?
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS
Lott: The SROs know they can tell an administrator or teacher “no” when they ask them something they shouldn’t be doing. It’s OK to say “no” to them. Before, they felt like they couldn’t do that because they were part of that school staff, they wanted to be accepted, they didn’t want to make the principal mad. So yes, if the principal asked them to do something, they’d do it, but we’ve reinforced that you can say “no” and it’s not going to cost you your job.
Holbrook: I think it’s important that the role of the SRO is clearly defined, and the expectations of the SRO are clearly known to officers and school administrators and teachers. I also don’t think you should criminalize bad behavior in a school. There has to be ways of dealing with that without law enforcement being involved in that.
Lott: One reason we had an increase in gang activity is because the community kind of thought we were in good shape and had beat the gangs, and things slowed down with them asking for gang education classes and stuff ... and that allowed the gangs to come back stronger.
Holbrook: Any violent crime, we’re sending representatives from the gang task force. The level of intelligence that is immediately generated is astounding really. I think it has directly contributed to our ability to solve crime quicker.
Lott: I think we’ve got a few loopholes that need to be addressed – waiting period on when you go buy a gun and you get your records checked. I don’t think anybody should be able to buy a gun until they are sufficiently checked. If that takes more than a day, so be it. One of my pet peeves always is gun shows. You’re allowed to go into gun shows and buy and sell stuff without records checks and we know for a fact gang members send some of their people go in to buy guns at the gun shows.
Holbrook: I think our gun statutes should be more punitive and graduated. If you get arrested with a gun charge today and you’re found guilty and a year later you get arrested with a gun, it should be a graduated penalty. It shouldn’t be the same penalty.
Lott: I think there’s a real possibility for terrorism, by lone wolves or organized international terrorists, anywhere anytime. We’ve got targets here just like anywhere else has targets and we have to be ready and prepared for it.
Holbrook: The Sheriff’s Department has people assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, we have people assigned there, SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) has people there. We really stay on top of everything going on nationally ... and anything that is further defined as a potential threat in this region, we focus even more on that.
Lott: People talk about (law enforcement) having military-type equipment. This equipment is necessary when we have terrorism attacks. The first people who respond are your local law enforcement. If they’re not equipped and prepared for it, that disaster just continues to be a disaster.
Holbrook: There have been a couple examples of the wrong way to use equipment that have caused everybody to be penalized for this, and I do not agree with that. If you need that piece of equipment one time and it saves lives and protects a police officer, then it has served its purpose. It should not be something that is deployed irresponsibly, when it’s not needed. Everything we do should be measured and responsibly done.
COLLABORATION AND STAFFING
Lott: Our gang task force, and getting it up and running even better than it has been. It’s been going 18 months but now we received the federal grant (of just over $320,000) that allows us to expand it and get some assistance with the funding of it. That will ... also allow us to add even additional agencies. Just about every agency that’s within Richland County now has joined. Some of those will have full-time people assigned, some will have people assigned part-time.
Holbrook: We will begin budget (meetings in January). It’s my intention to discuss additional staff for this emerging entertainment area on Bull Street, the growth we’ve seen on Main and the Vista – and it will allow us to more adequately police those areas. I think we’ve got to grow with our city.
Lott: We’ve pretty much identified the camera system we want to go with. Now it’s just a matter of funding it. Policies are pretty much cookie cutter policies – everybody pretty much has the same thing.
Holbrook: When people know they’re being videotaped, I think it has a tendency to ratchet down a situation that was a little more tense. I think it has a way of de-escalating on both the citizen’s side and law enforcement side.