COLUMBIA — Frustrated with recurring rumors about the Five Points bar district in downtown Columbia being overrun with police officers, Alex Waelde said he wanted to set the record straight by launching a website to answer the question: "Is SLED out?"
Issledout.com, which has been live for about a week, is a crowd-sourced website that will let visitors know if officers with the State Law Enforcement Division, Columbia Police Department or University of South Carolina Police Department are patrolling the bar area known to draw large crowds of college students.
"There are always rumors that Five Points is this police state where police are down there all the time, that SLED is down there cracking heads every night," Waelde said. "So I made a website. It's like those gag websites that are like, 'Did the Gamecocks win?' And you go to it and it says no. It's to show people that SLED is not out there every night."
Waelde, who does marketing for several bars and restaurants in Five Points, said he was tired of business being affected by people starting rumors about the area being overrun with police.
"Our entire bar district is going to be dead because of some stupid rumor some stupid girl made," Waelde said.
Issledout.com provides updates such as "light activity, — 1-3 officers sighted," "heavy 6-10+ officers most are located at major intersections on foot," or even "light — mainly traffic pullovers."
Waelde stresses the information on the website is only as good as the tips it gets from the public. And the attention seems to be welcome by police officers in the area.
Waelde said officers he knows tell him they think the website, which launched Monday, is funny.
"A lot of them have told me, 'If you have to make a website, clearly it means we’re doing our job,' " he said. "And that's kind of what the website is trying to do, too. To show, yes, they're doing their job, but they're not going overboard."
SLED Chief Mark Keel said if alerting the public through technology that police officers are on the streets keeps violations down, he sees no problem.
"If they see us out there and this would keep young people from violating our laws in regards to drinking underage and that type of thing, I don’t have an issue with it," Keel said.
But he stressed that it wouldn't be smart to rely on the website when making a decision about breaking the law.
"If I'm a young person in Five Points or anywhere else, I wouldn't be dependent on it," he said. "You never know where we might be."
Columbia Police Capt. Christopher Roberts, who commands the patrol region that includes the Five Points bar district and a significant amount of off-campus student housing, said the department's primary goal remains making sure residents are safe.
"Tracking software and notifications do not deter us from maintaining optimal performance and transparency while on duty," he said.
Waelde, a USC graduate from Greenville, also has successfully run the @DrinkingTicket Twitter account since 2011, which solicits tips from followers to find out where there is police and criminal activity. Waelde often was asked by several of his nearly 80,000 followers to create a website dedicated to letting people know if the police were out.
23,000 requests in 30 seconds. Upgrading the servers in Monday. Here's a screenshot. pic.twitter.com/u41uATlKB7— DrinkingTicket ® (@DrinkingTicket) September 1, 2017
The account started in May 2011 as a resource for students to be directed to legal advice when they found themselves being charged with driving under the influence or an open container violation.
"It's really turned into something where it's like people care about the information shared on there," Wealde said. "When I tweet something out, it's something that the students care about and want to see."
He prides himself on getting information out hours before most traditional media outlets about the 2014 murder-suicide of a USC professor who was killed by his wife. He credits that with not being held to the types of checks and balances that newspapers and television stations are held to by the journalism field.
Still, Wealde said, his information has been true 99.8 percent of the time during the lifetime of the Twitter account.
"The only thing to worry about is when these kind of platforms get into the wrong hands," Wealde said. "That’s when it could be kind of dangerous."