Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia civic and law enforcement leaders say they're focused on ending gang violence, in the wake of several high profile recent gang-related crimes.
Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago, Mayor Steve Benjamin, and faith and community leaders spoke Monday at St. Anna's Park in the Liberty Hill Community. They were flanked by members of the Columbia Police Department's gang unit.
The statement comes a little more than two weeks after the latest gang-related incident, a shooting on McDuffie Street that killed 24-year-old Dandra Monet Pelzer, a person who wasn't the indented target of the crime. Santiago said both of the people charged in connection with her killing are known gang members. Previous Coverage:Arrests Made in McDuffie Street Killings
Over the summer, gang violence has been linked to the killing of a bakery worker, a father holding his daughter, and the injuring of a four-year-old girl.
"I think the biggest effort that we need to take away from today is making sure that we think about what happens from here," Santiago said. "What are we doing as a city, what are we doing as a police department, and what are we doing as a community."
Santiago said his department has a three-pronged approach to dealing with gangs that involves enforcement, education, and outreach.
When officers aren't searching for criminals, they spend time educating the public on how to spot the signs of gang activity in their neighborhoods, and then to report it when they do see it.
Benjamin said people can expect to see an increased effort by the city's gang unit.
"You're going to see a lot more of them because they're going to be working together with local law enforcement, with community leaders, with faith leaders, with each and every one of you identifying every gang member in the city, connecting the dots, educating our officers and neighborhoods and developing the critical intelligence we need to take the fight to the streets," Benjamin said.
The mayor said gangs engage in dangerous criminal behavior and have "no place in our city."
But he also pointed to efforts to help young people in the community who may be at risk, including a mentoring network and camps.
"We're all dedicated to doing everything we can to give our young men and women the support and guidance that they need to find their way, and if they stray off the path, to help them find their way back."