Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The City of Columbia and its citizens have both seen their share of crime in recent months.
Saturday's National Night Out Kickoff, Columbia's 6th incarnation, was an effort at curbing those issues. It brought together members of communities, their members, and various legions of law enforcement.
But at today's event, members of the greater Columbia community made it known just how they felt, expressing concern over the recent influx of crime.
Two recent murders that took place in Columbia have both been confirmed to be gang-related.
"Anytime you have gangs in any community, it's a gang problem," said Interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago.
Santiago on Saturday acknowledged that with 115 documented gang members, Columbia does have a gang problem.
"Anytime you have gangs in any community, it's a gang problem," Santiago said, mentioning that one of the tools his department was using to fight Columbia gangs was a five member gang task force. Each officer within the force, which is headed by Lt. Chris White, is given five sectors of the city to patrol, using techniques of community policing.
"We're talking about people that are going to help gather information so that all our officers can be trained," Santiago said, "and a big part of that is understanding what gangs are, and what it is going to take to be effective against gangs."
Also present were a handful of Columbia City Council members, expressing their own desires to bring the City's neighborhoods together. Heading that effort is President of Columbia's Council of Neighborhoods, Dean Slade.
"The use of GPS tracking and some of these other things that are available now, it's much easier to be able to map," Slade said referring to the ability to keep track of crime "hot-spots" and related gang activity.
Slade also said he is working with prosecutors to keep offenders behind bars long term.
"Neighbors are now being encouraged to speak at these bond hearings. We do need to be able to protect our citizens," Slade said.
A community-wide approach was echoed by Santiago.
"The third prong to that is the outreach group" said Santiago. "What are we going to do as a community to keep them out of gangs? We have to really look at those three issues, and how we can be effective in those areas."