Mayor Bob Coble sent this at 7:55 a.m., but I just got to it:
Safety and Security Ordinance is needed
I wanted to respond to your Friday editorial, “High-crime areas should draw more police protection.” Your editorial says “when crime escalates to the point it becomes ‘an unacceptable risk to public safety’ — whether at an apartment complex or in an historic neighborhood — residents should be able to expect swift, intense police intervention. But under a proposal by Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, if you live in an apartment complex beset with crime, you would have to depend on your landlord.” That statement is both untrue and misleading. A more accurate description of the Safety and Security Ordinance I have proposed would be, “if you live in an apartment complex, owned by an absentee landlord and funded by the federal government, that consistently rents to drug dealers and other criminals, and the Columbia Police and Richland County Sheriff Deputies are constantly coming to the same apartments time and time again, and the level of crime on the private property owned by your absentee landlord exceeds one percent of total major crime in the City, then your absentee landlord has a responsibility to be part of the solution.”
The City of Columbia recently did a gang assessment that was conducted by the University of South Carolina and Benedict College. That study demonstrated that a great deal of the drug and gang activity as well as domestic violence and violent crime are clustered in several large, federally funded, apartment complexes in Columbia. The State did a series of articles about North Columbia and reported the same findings. These apartments receive hundreds of thousands of federal dollars through project based Section 8 vouchers, federal tax credits for low income housing, or individual Section 8 vouchers. The federal government, since it provides subsidies for housing in these complexes, should require security just as it has structural safety requirements-but the federal government does not. The residents of these complexes are the victims of these crimes. They deserve the same level of safety as every other citizen.
The requirements of our Safety and Security Ordinance would start if an apartment complex was the source of one percent of major crime in the City. A safety and security plan is not a substitute for the police. The apartment owner can do things the police cannot: enforce lease provisions against renting to those convicted of drug crimes, enforce rules of the apartment established by the property owner such as a curfew; and screen persons for trespassing more effectively. It’s not appropriate for city police to stay in one apartment complex 24 hours a day and act as private security, at the neglect of nearby areas.
Gable Oaks is an example of success. The former owner hired private guards and instituted other measures earlier this year that transformed one of the city’s toughest housing complexes into a safe community. The City Police and the Richland County Sheriff worked in partnership with Gable Oaks to produce this safer community. The City, of course, has the obligation to provide protection for our citizens. A Safety and Security Ordinance is part of a larger strategy to fight crime in Columbia. Chief Tandy Carter is preparing his comprehensive plan for the Police Department. This year’s City budget that was adopted in June included monies for our pay and retention plan for both police and firefighters that will total $2.5 million phased over three years. Additionally, this year’s budget includes funding for 14 additional officers with seven added in this fiscal year and seven in the next. The City is implementing a security camera system, our Gang Initiative, as well as our Criminal Domestic Violence Task Force. A Safety and Security Ordinance should be part of that strategy.
Mayor Bob Coble