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Community Policing Initiatives in Walterboro Help Lead to Drop in Crime Rate

Violent crimes drop 30 percent; further drops seen in 2011

Walterboro, S.C. – Measures taken by the City of Walterboro to reduce the number of crime-related activities in the area appear to have been met with success, according to a crime and police activity report presented during a Walterboro City Council meeting today.

In response to violent crime rates that peaked in 2007, along with a series of violent events in 2009, Walterboro City Council initiated a comprehensive “10 Point Plan” in February 2010 to reduce the number of overall crimes in the area and to ensure that Walterboro remains a safe place to live, work and visit. Based on the community policing philosophy, the “10 Point Plan” engaged other agencies and partnered with targeted levels of government enforcement and civic involvement. The city saw violent crime drop 30 percent last year. A significant decrease is expected again this year, given current projections, and is deemed to be a result of the concerted effort to turn things around.

The Community Safety Initiative, a two-fold approach to address neighborhood revitalization, education, training and technical assistance, is further expected to have favorable impact on the reduction of crime in the area. This pilot initiative, the bulk of which is funded by $1 million in federal grants, was announced by then Governor Mark Sanford in October of last year. In addition to neighborhood revitalization, there are programs for at risk youth that include mentoring, skills training and internship opportunities. The program is a partnership with the State Department of Commerce, the Department of Juvenile Justice, SLED and the City of Walterboro.

“Fighting crime is a process, not a goal with a definable conclusion, and we will continue to provide the resources necessary for our city to be safe and a fully viable community. We will do whatever it takes to see these numbers continue to improve. Public safety remains the number one priority, and we address this every day as we look for innovative ways to deal with the criminal element in our community. We applaud the efforts of our city manager, staff, and public safety officials as their diligent efforts are the reason we are seeing these substantial improvements. We owe thanks to the S.C. Department of Commerce and our partners in the Community Safety Initiative too. We are excited about the promise it holds to help ensure an even safer community, day in and day out,” said Bill Young, mayor of the City of Walterboro.

The report shows a 36 percent reduction in the number of aggravated assaults since 2010, a move that the city attributes to aggressive enforcement, community engagement, and several key arrests. To date in 2011, 21 aggravated assaults have occurred in the city, indicating that a better than 50 percent reduction in assaults is possible for this year. To maintain this trend, the city, as part of the “10 Point Plan,” has been installing and repairing street lights in dark areas, and officers have been working with property owners and businesses to prevent loitering.

Meanwhile, property crime rates rose slightly in 2010, possibly due to the city’s focus on violent crimes and a regional trend upward. The city is seeing a drop in 2011,which is attributed to new programs such as predictive patrolling, which involves relying on data analysis to shift patrol resources for more coverage in areas where crime is likely to occur. Further, the creation of a Street Crimes Unit, which serves as both a strategic reserve and as an investigative unit, has helped to make law enforcement more flexible to respond to where they are needed more quickly. Additionally, successful enforcement of drug related crimes is deemed to have had a positive impact, as many larcenies and burglaries are often committed to sustain a drug habit.

Larcenies remained among the most common type of property crime committed, and while there was a decrease of 10 percent in 2010, there was an increase in reported burglaries, resulting in the overall increase. City officials primarily attribute this increase in burglaries to one juvenile offender who was responsible for several of the burglaries in 2010. He is now serving a three-year prison term.

Neighborhood watch groups, increased patrols, and the creation of the Street Crimes Unit have begun to have impact on a reduction in larcenies, according to the report. The city has continued to witness a decrease in the number of larcenies. Given the current rates for 2011, the city may see another 20 percent or better decrease. So far this year, the City of Walterboro has also seen the number of burglaries decrease, a trend that could lead to a 40 percent reduction in these criminal acts. If sustained, in 2011, the city could see its lowest property crime rate since 2004 and the lowest robbery level in more than 10 years.

Robberies peaked in 2007 and 2008, with many occurring at hotels near the interstate where night clerks were leaving doors and windows unsecured. Officers since have been making rounds at night, better communicating with businesses about safety precautions and measures that can be taken, and utilizing the Street Crimes Unit. Meanwhile, it is believed that the number of burglaries rose in part during those years in response to the fallen economy, which is still faltering.

Drug related incidents in the city are also on the decline, following a slight increase in 2010. The decline is likely due to interdiction in the prior year and to the efforts of a Drug Suppression Team, which was established in 2010 by a federal Justice Assistance Grant.

Established in 1826, the City of Walterboro is hailed as the “front porch of the Lowcountry,” with its historic charm, plentiful natural resources and warm Southern hospitality. The area around the city, rich with forests and vast quantities of water, is also known as the gateway to the ACE Basin, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. Centrally located between Charleston, Savannah, Hilton Head, and Columbia, the city is home to many historic buildings, antique stores, the Great Swamp Sanctuary and the S.C. Artisans Center, designated by the state’s legislature as the “Official South Carolina Folk Art and Craft Center.” In addition, the city is home to the largest general aviation airport in the state. Walterboro serves as the economic heart of Colleton County and maintains a small-town Americana atmosphere. For more information, call 843-549-2545 or visit www.walterborosc.org.

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