Police say they're ramping up efforts following a spate of recent gun crimes — including a weekend incident in which a 17-year-old girl was hit with a stray bullet in the popular Five Points nightlife district.
At an Aug. 12 news conference at Columbia Police headquarters, Chief Skip Holbrook detailed a rash of firearm-related incidents in the city in the past two weeks.
Holbrook listed 20 separate incidents that occurred in various areas of the city between Aug. 2 and 11, all of which involved a gun in some capacity. Those incidents ranged from pointing a gun to discharging a gun to armed robbery to murder and beyond.
"Unfortunately, gun crime remains our greatest threat, both in the city and the county," said Holbrook, who was joined at the news conference by longtime Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Among the recent rash of gun crimes was an incident at about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 11 in Five Points, where a 17-year-old girl was hit with a stray bullet. Holbrook said officers in Five Points were on their way to the Chick-fil-A in Five Points to disperse a crowd that had gathered in front of the chicken restaurant, which was closed at the time. As officers got near, they heard gunfire, and upon arrival found the teen, who had been shot in the leg. Police do not believe the girl was an intended target of the shot.
Holbrook says that police used SpotShotter technology to determine that shots were fired from the area of Pine Street, a couple hundred yards from the place where the girl was hit. He says police recovered "ballistic evidence" from that spot and believe that's where the shot that hit the teen originated from.
The chief says police will continue to collaborate with the sheriff's department and federal authorities in an attempt to address gun violence, and he stressed that police will look to use programs such as the North Columbia-focused Operation Ceasefire and Project Safe Neighborhood to help tamp down the shooting problems.
Holbrook added that city police will be beefing up staffing, and he has issued a directive to high-level staff, including lieutenants, captains, majors and himself, to work on Friday and Saturday nights until further notice.
"We'll be working in all crime hotspots in our city, including [downtown and North Columbia], and in the Five Points and Vista entertainment areas," Holbrook says.
In a broader point, Holbrook lamented the inaction of the General Assembly in addressing gun violence via legislation.
"We haven't had any meaningful gun legislation since I've been here," said Holbrook, who's led the Capital City's police force for five years. "We've have had some pretty horrific events occur in our city and elsewhere in this state. There is no consequence, essentially, with the exception of federal charges, for people who are in [illegal] possession of firearm.
"The third offense of shoplifting carries up to 10 years in prison. You could get caught 50 times with a gun and the sentence never gets serious. That's absurd."
Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah was in attendance at the Aug. 12 news conference. As it regarded Five Points, the District 3 councilman told Free Times he wants to have a talk with new USC president Bob Caslen about the shuttle buses that take students from the school to Five Points and back on the weekends.
"My challenge for the new USC president is, if you bus your students down to Five Points, you've got to bring security and police officers to police those students," Baddourah said. "These are your students you're bringing down to Five Points. It's your responsibility to police them, not just drop them off at a bus stops and let the chips fall where they may."