Aiken Safe Communities on Thursday held its second notification to put a dozen or so violent offenders on notice and tell them: Shape up, or else.
The new crime fighting initiative was first implemented in High Point, N.C., which saw a 54 percent decrease in its violence crime rate since 1990, while the population rose from 75,000 to 107,000. The City of Aiken caught wind of the innovative program and decided to give it a shot.
In January, about a dozen chronic violent offenders who were identified through their criminal records were asked to come to the notification held in the City Council chambers. There, they heard the consequences of the crimes they are committing. In addition to a message of love and care from community members, they also heard from law enforcement about the consequences they face should they reoffend: an expedited trial and stiffer punishments.
Since then, three of the offenders have reached out to the resources available to them; however, two have chosen to continue with criminal activity.
On Thursday, a group of 12 new offenders heard a similar message.
“You’re here because of your past, but your past does not have to be your future,” said Sharon Rodgers, president of United Way of Aiken County. “You can change your future. You can become productive members of society.”
Chief Charles Barranco, director of the Aiken Deparmtent of Public Safety, was one of several officials on the panel that included Aiken Public Safety, the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
“We are tired of the violence on our streets. We are tired of the shootings, and we’re especially tired of you involving the youth in these crimes,” Barranco said. “The next time you commit an act of violence, you can expect to see us all there. We will make an example of the worst and give fair warning to the rest. We cannot make you do the right thing, but we can make you sorry that you chose to act violently.”
One man who was present at the first notification in January was later arrested in February on drug charges; as a result, a pending burglary charge from 2011 was expedited to trial, and he was sentenced earlier this month to 12 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Crick called the federal system the “rocket docket.”
“From crime to time is 70 days,” he said. “That means if you’re arrested, you’re in court for a plea or a trial 70 days later. We move fast.”
Assistant Solicitor Beth Ann Young said the Second Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office will work with federal attorneys if an offender is rearrested.
“You will not get a plea bargain, you will not hide behind the docket,” she said. “We will work with the U.S. attorneys office to determine which agency can prosecute you and get you the longest sentence.”
Barranco said afterward he was confident in the message conveyed Thursday.
“It was a clear, concerted message to the offenders,” he said. “They were able to see the people who were notified last time that didn’t heed the warning.”
Shelby Saunders, a spokesman for Aiken Safe Communities Action Team, told the offenders that everyone in that room was there out of love.
“I want you to know that tonight, you are being put on notice that violent crime in the city of Aiken will no longer be tolerated,” he said. “ ... The people that are out here tonight, they came here because they want to be in support of you.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.