Columbia City leaders and local law enforcement respond to calls from a faith-based organization for a study into gun violence

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – The Midlands faith-based organization MORE Justice is asking the community to invest $50,000 in a gun violence prevention study that aims to get to the root of the problem and offer solutions.

There have been several gun related incidents in recent weeks.

A student was found with an unloaded handgun at Lower Richland High School on Tuesday.

A 20-year-old man was killed and four others injured in a shooting at the Greene Apartments on Pulaski Street in Colombia over the weekend.

On March 7, a 14-year-old boy was shot dead in a wooded area near the 2400 block of Kneece Road. According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, a 16-year-old was arrested in connection with the case.

Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said he is open to the idea of ​​MORE Justice and is in ongoing discussions with the organization about what form it might take.

“It’s not a yes, no,” he said. “There are caveats. And those caveats are who’s going to be a partner in the deal, what’s the long-term goal and do we already have enough information to build on and then do the update?”

Two years ago, Professor David Kennedy of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College reviewed the city’s analytics processes.

MORE Justice’s $50,000 claim is the first step in a comprehensive gun violence intervention strategy that More Justice is trying to implement in Colombia. This would only finance the problem analysis.

“I think we’re at a crossroads now to decide what that is?” said Rickenmann. “Is it just an update of the analysis that’s there and giving us today’s reflection of the last two years so we can have a new starting point and then decide which program is the best because there are probably five or six programs on gun violence, that existed? Success.”

When asked about the call for the study, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a statement: “[Columbia Police] Chief Holbrook and I have indicated that anything this study would achieve would be a duplication of our previous studies and efforts,” he said. “Community involvement is necessary to address this community issue. However, it would not be beneficial to spend $50,000 to replicate a study that has been conducted.”

The Columbia Police Department sent a statement stating:

“CPD officers have worked tirelessly during my 8-year tenure under extraordinary times and circumstances to combat violent crime and civil unrest in the city of Columbia. Highlighted and discussed at the local, state and national levels, the CPD’s efforts to reduce violent crime are evidence-based and follow national best practices.

Two years ago, in partnership with CPD to establish the Crime Gun Intelligence Unit (CGIU) and violent crime investigations, we asked Professor David Kennedy of the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) to visit John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Columbia to do this to review our analytical procedures.

These efforts are based on the principles of trust, fair and impartial policing, and partnership with our citizens and other law enforcement agencies. We remain committed to these national best practices to reduce gun crime. We will continue to be in touch with Professor Kennedy and the NNSC.”

Rickenmann said he’s willing to plead this before the council and have the city pay part of it, but MORE Justice needs to be involved and contribute some money to the effort as well.

“If it’s an update, we’ll move on,” he said. “In order for us to have a successful program, it’s a community-wide issue and it can’t just be funded and run by government. So I challenged MORE Justice to put money into it.”

Rickenmann said the effort could be part of this year’s budget.

The city has already received the first batch of $27 million in federal COVID-19 assistance through the American Rescue Plan Act and is expected to receive an additional $13.5 million later this summer.

“This is a candidate for APRA funds and other public safety things, so we have an opportunity to move forward,” Rickenmann said. “I think we really need to narrow the scope because that money is finite and we need to make sure whatever we’re investing in is really bringing something to the community.”

Rickenmann said he would welcome Richland County Council’s partnership in this effort.

District Council Chairperson Overture sent a statement that read:

“The county is always willing to discuss ways we can improve the health, safety and well-being of our citizens. Although the district has not considered a gun study, we are more than willing to work with our partners in the City of Columbia, other communities in the district, Solicitor Gipson and Sheriff Lott to find a remedy for gun violence.

Additionally, I think it’s important for government to engage community groups/leaders like MORE Justice, as well as others in faith and business circles, to magic lasting solutions.”

MORE Justice will meet with law enforcement and other community leaders on April 4 to discuss gun violence prevention and other issues, including affordable housing.

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