Vandalism uptick leads residents to seek solutions
City and university law enforcement officials met with University Hill residents Wednesday about the recent increase in vandalism in the local Columbia neighborhood.
The gathering of 25 at the Inn at USC was the latest in a series of meetings seeking to address reports of young people, many thought to be USC students, urinating on private property, ripping mirrors off cars and generally creating havoc on their drunken walks back from Five Points. Because University Hill is adjacent to both campus and Five Points, it is often used as thoroughfare between the two. One resident said a couch in her front yard had been set aflame.
Newly appointed Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott and USC Police Department Director Chris Wuchenich both advocated alternative methods to arrest when punishing USC students, while maintaining that non-USC students were also involved.
Scott, who was promoted from interim police chief in January, focused on using the Carolina Judicial Council to threaten students with fines, alcohol management classes and, in extreme cases, the loss of scholarships. Wuchenich lauded the current attention of student leaders to the issue and urged continued peer pressure on students to abandon illegal behavior. He said he favored The Daily Gamecock printing the names of lawbreakers.
One resident, however, said that “sometimes a night in jail works.”
Scott said more Columbia police officers would be patrolling Five Points and University Hill, while Wuchenich said USCPD was already too preoccupied on campus to increase presence elsewhere.
Residents and officials were generally unsure about what was causing the increase in vandalism, but Scott Linaberry, president of the Five Points Association and owner of Sharky’s and Red Hot Tomatoes, said bars acting illegally could be to blame. He said overserving alcohol to intoxicated patrons, rather than underage drinking, was causing the most problems.
“Prices at Five Points are probably lower than anywhere else in the country,” Linaberry said. “I tried to sell drinks at a dollar for one month, and I lost money.”
Linaberry said it is nearly impossible for bars to make money off dollar drinks without breaking state laws regarding the sale of alcohol. He advocated compelling bars to train their staff and make them realize they are liable for the actions of patrons they overserve. City Council is currently considering a measure that would allow bars to stay open until 4 a.m. only if they get a permit that forces them to abide by established state law.
Scott also said he would be going with several defense attorneys this month to talk to USC sororities. But while the residents applauded the Greek leaders’ attention to the issue, several said they thought the residents of Capstone and Columbia Hall, which are adjacent to their neighborhood, were more to blame.
“Capstone is a freshman dorm,” one said. “So why are they drinking?”
Belinda Gergel, councilwoman for University Hill’s district, said that before Scott became chief, Columbia PD had not been cooperative. Scott said he understood the residents’ complaints and was working to build a more effective department.
“No one wants to go outside and smell urine in their yard,” Scott said.