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Columbia-Irmo working toward solution to area crime as residents express concern

A fence separates Irmo and Columbia near the Columbiana Mall. Residents say crime has become a concern at the wall and both sides are working to fix it.

IRMO, S.C. — In Irmo, not far from the Columbiana Mall, a wooden fence separates the town limits from the City of Columbia.

It’s at that wall where residents say crime has become a concern.

Audra Hawisher lives on the Irmo side and says she heard what she believes were gun shots ringing out from behind her home – on the Columbia side.

"It's really scary when my ring camera catches what sounds like an AR-15 coming from behind the house where it’s so loud that you have to duck in your kitchen,” Hawisher said. "The problems are arising in Columbia's jurisdiction, so when Irmo comes out, unfortunately, there's really not much they can do."

Harbison Gardens Apartments border Hawisher’s home on the Columbia side of the fence.

Irmo Mayor Barry Walker said the town has invested $100,000 into an afterschool program to support children there and in Irmo with the goal of reducing crime.

"I grew up in the same kind of complex as Harbison Gardens,” Mayor Walker said. “If that was a lock 'em up kind of attitude, I wouldn't be mayor of Irmo right now.”

The Universal Leadership and STEAM Academy received those funds from the town, helping support about 60 kids between five and 13.

"Filled with activities from taking them to Saluda Shoals Park,” Dr. Alonzo Johnson, who leads the program said, “bowling… and academics.”

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Martina Glover lives in Harbison Gardens and said the program has become a safe space for her two daughters.

"It's definitely been a concern given that the shootings happen close by in areas,” Glover said.

Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said they’re reviewing a proposal to contribute funds to the STEAM Academy while also working toward its own crime prevention task force.

"Crisis teams, that means with mental health... that could be local community leaders along with law enforcement,” Mayor Rickenmann said.

He says they have made progress with police and city leaders visiting the complex over the past year, but it’s not the only area of concern.

"We also though have had a significant amount of crime in the area with the Extended Stay Hotels where we've had professional panhandling groups and other folks using the hotel as a shield,” Mayor Rickenmann said.

Columbia Police Lt. Vandell McCary said they work with Irmo Police and other surrounding law enforcement to address concerns, but it’s not just an Irmo or Columbia issue, as the nation continues to face an uptick in crime.

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"I want you to help us help you,” Lt. McCary said. “That snitch code, please, you  got to let that go. Help your community, this is the only way we’re going to do it. We got to remember, we’re in this together.”

Both Hawisher and Glover said they’ve seen some improvements. Now, they’re hoping for consistent change.

"We just want the best for our neighborhood and our community here and just want to feel safe,” Hawisher said.

Mayor Rickenmann said they’ll likely continue discussion on this issue at the next regularly scheduled city council meeting which is Tuesday, September 6 at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

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