Councilman: Sheriff Should Run Columbia Police

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia City Councilman Cameron Runyan wants Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to run the Columbia Police Department.

Runyan announced a Monday morning news conference that he'll introduced a proposal that would allow Lott to take over the agency.

"[He has proven] himself time and time again to be a true law enforcement officer and a pioneer of one of the very best agencies in our state," Runyan said.

Runyan called on Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson to put the current search for a new police chief on hold while this idea is considered. Currently, the city is in the last phases of selecting a new chief, and has already narrowed down the list to four finalists.

It's not the first time this has been proposed. In 2010, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin suggested that the city should enter into a one-year contract with Lott to manage the police force. But while the idea initially appeared to have support, the council ultimately voted it down in September of that year, instead choosing to seek a new chief.

"I believe that was a mistake," Runyan said. "Four years and two police chiefs later, our officers continue to struggle under the same uncertainty and instability as they did then."

The department has been without a chief since Randy Scott stepped down nearly a year ago. Ruben Santiago has been serving as interim chief.

Runyan said cities such as Charlotte and Jacksonville have a unified city and county law enforcement agency, which he says works well in those places. He also pointed to the fact that fire services and emergency dispatch is already unified in Richland County.

"This is not reinventing the wheel, it's about good government that embraces proven solutions," Runyan said.

By putting the agencies together, Runyan said it would created a police force of over 1,000 officers, and put greater resources into combating narcotics and gangs in the area. He also said it would be better for the chief cop in the county to be accountable to the public, and not an unelected official.

While Lott himself has not commented on the proposal yet, Runyan said the sheriff is supportive of the idea.

Here are the statements of some public officials in response to the idea:

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin:

"Public safety is and has always been my top priority and I'm open to any proposal that promotes cooperation and devotes more resources to keeping our neighborhoods and our families truly safe. My hope is that we have an opportunity to hear from all the people before we make a decision either way because this discussion shouldn't be limited to City Council. The only way we can truly move forward on this issue is if we move forward together."

Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine:

"For the last five months the City Manager Teresa Wilson has conducted an inclusive, yet exhaustive search for a new police chief. Numerous candidates have been interviewed and the search is now in its final stages. I along with several of my colleagues in City Council are confident in the city manager's police chief candidate selection process.

"I would not be opposed to evaluating City Councilmember Runyon's proposal to consolidate the departments, but this requires several steps that includes a formal request, benefit cost analysis, public hearings and vote before council. If Mr. Runyon was truly serious about this proposal he could have put this proposal forward months ago. I am not sure if this is just a case of bad timing in the 11th hour of the search or Mr. Runyon has employed the tactic of 'bait and switch' denying the residents of Columbia a say in how public services are delivered, undermining the democratic process, and creating a hostile work environment for the incoming police chief. All Columbia residents are interested in the performance and morale of their city government, therefore we're all in this together and need to continue to work together. I encourage Councilmember Runyon to allow the city manager to complete her search and choose the best candidate to lead the great men and women of our police force."


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