‘Safe Communities’ curbing crime, spreading to other cities
Aiken is in a downward trend – but it's a trend police chief Charles Barranco said he likes.
The number of murders in the City of Aiken decreased 86 percent, from seven in 2012 to just one in 2013, according to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, also known as SLED.
Robberies decreased by more than 17 percent, and burglaries by more than 12 percent, according to SLED.
Barranco, director of the Aiken Department of Public Safety, said much of the decrease can be attributed to the Safe Communities initiative, which held its fourth offender notification on Thursday.
As part of the initiative, repeat violent offenders in Aiken are identified based on their present and past criminal activities.
They are invited to attend a special meeting with law enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies, as well as community members.
At these meetings, the offenders are given, in writing, the penalties they face if they commit another crime, which includes an expedited trial and harsher sentencing.
They are also offered opportunities to connect with local service providers and nonprofit organizations to help them pursue a different path and turn their lives around.
The initiative is molded after a similar program in High Point, North Carolina, which saw a 54 percent decrease in its violent crime rate while the population rose from 75,000 to more than 100,000.
“We will make examples of the worst and give fair warning to the rest,” Barranco told the handful of offenders in City Council chambers on Thursday. “Tonight is your fair warning.”
Sitting in empty chairs facing the offenders were two pictures of other Aiken offenders who were called to previous notifications.
They reoffended, and they faced an expedited trial and sentencing.
“In reviewing the cases of men and women who have sat in your seats since this program began and chose to reoffend, the longest wait from crime to time was seven months,” said Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr.
He added that his office will work with the U.S. Attorney's Office to determine where a reoffender would face the harshest sentencing.
Representatives from other law enforcement agencies in Aiken County – and even the state – made it clear that if an offender reoffends, the agencies will work together to find reoffenders and bring them back to await trial.
Chief Wendell Davis of the Orangeburg Department of Public Safety was on Thursday's panel.
Not only is his department in Aiken's Safe Communities network, but it is looking to start its own program.
“To think that because a person commits a crime in Aiken that he will not offend in Orangeburg, you're sort of putting your head in the dirt,” he said after Thursday's notification. “Orangeburg is only 60 miles away. We're going to seek out Aiken's help to establish our own program, and have them a part of our network, also.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard.