Sheriff Lott: "If They Need Me, I'm Here"

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- A Columbia city councilman wants the police department to be operated by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.

Cameron Runyan says he will propose a merger of the city and county law enforcement agencies, with Lott running the show.

"He has proven that he knows how to run his department," said Runyan. "I believe that he deserves the opportunity to see if he can get the city of Columbia's Police Department straightened out."

Runyan announced a proposal the he says would create the largest law enforcement agency in the state with more than 1,000 sets of boots on the ground and combined specialized groups for gangs and drugs.

He rejected the idea that the plan would concentrate power with the sheriff, but said it would instead create more capability and responsibility.

"That one person is accountable to all 130,000 voters in the City of Columbia, as opposed to an un-elected bureaucrat who is now in charge of the police department in the form of the city manager," he said.

That hired city leader is Teresa Wilson, who has been working with city council members to execute a police chief search since November. That is why several of Runyan's fellow council members have questioned why he would announce this idea now when the search is so close to an end.

"Councilman Runyan had the chance to bring that up the whole time the whole process was being conducted. Since November he could have done the same thing what he's doing now, he should have brought that idea," said Councilman Moe Baddourah.

He believes Runyan is looking to take attention away from the city's debate over bringing in a minor league baseball team.

"I wanna hire a police chief. I think Columbia deserves a police chief. I think the officers deserve a leader and it's time to move on. It's time to move on, not to bring the old stories, the old solutions, the old problems all over again," said Baddourah.

Sheriff Leon Lott say the idea of him taking over CPD has been floated five times during his 18 years as sheriff and it has never amounted to much, but he would consider it if he had the same control he has now.

"I've been asked again would I be willing to do it. The answer is yes. I'd be willing to do it, if it's done in the right circumstances if that's what the city leaders want and if that's what the citizens of the City of Columbia say that they want. I'm not gonna turn it down and turn my back. I can't do that," said Lott.

He says he hasn't given much thought to how he would run a combined agency because the idea has not moved that far. He did say he planned to run for reelection when his current term ends.

Runyan's proposal comes as Wilson wraps up visits to the communities of each police chief candidate. She is expected to make a final decision sometime this month.

Wilson said any move to merge the two law enforcement agencies would be a decision for city council and would not comment on the idea.


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