Red Bank, SC (Paul Kirby) – Last year, when the pastor of Life Springs Worship Center in Red Bank offered to open his congregation’s facilities to the Sheriff’s Department if they were ever needed, he probably didn’t know that request would come so soon. Monday evening, Pastor Thompson and other congregants had to rush around at the last moment to add chairs as an overflow crowd estimated at more than 300 turned out for a community meeting to address rising crime in the area of Lexington County. Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon and most of his command staff attended as did Senator Katrina Shealy, County Council Chairman Scott Whetstone, Councilman Bobby Keisler, and Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher. Shealy, Keisler, and Fisher are all residents of Red Bank too.
Levi Carrigan, a young businessman, organized the meeting after he was the victim of multiple crimes. He and others were concerned about what could be done to reduce crime and help the Sheriff’s Department in the community. After prayer, Carrigan opened the meeting with a few comments but seemed to have a good grasp of one theme that came up over and over during the meeting. “Without our help, there is no answer,” Carrigan told the crowd. He said some people in attendance had complaints with the sheriff, but asked that everyone be civil and act like adults when the microphone was open for crowd comments.
Lt. Luis Rivera of the Sheriff’s Department’s West Region moved into a presentation on how the region is organized, what crimes they are seeing, and how they are working on them. He highlighted the area’s growth over the years and what is projected to come. He also talked about the area’s homeless population, something that wasn’t an issue decades ago. He explained the staffing of the region each shift, a number that seemed alarmingly low for the square miles protected. As the area has grown, it was clear growth has outpaced the deputies patrolling the region at any given time. This was something Sheriff Koon would later address.
After completing his presentation, Rivera introduced Lt. Robbie Lint, head of the department’s Narcotics Division. Lint said emphatically, “We have drugs in Red Bank.” He presented some staggering statistics on the drug problem across the area and what they were doing to address that. Later, another staff member took the mic and pointed out there is also a gang problem in Red Bank and Lexington County. He explained what was being done to fight these gangs he described as organized criminal enterprises that are local, national, and even international. He suggested community education was often one of the best ways to combat these. He did say that they’re now seeing children as young as 8 years old being recruited by gangs.
As the meeting drew close to its end, Sheriff Koon took the mic and opened the floor to citizens who wanted to speak. Some had comments while others had complaints. Some blamed the sheriff for inaction that allowed the criminals to thrive. Many ladies voiced their concerns over the homeless and panhandlers that frequented the area asking for money. Koon said that deputies had done everything within their power to address this where they could. They’d done homeless encampment sweeps, trespass warning people they found where they could. He pointed out that businesses had to do their part lodging complaints against panhandlers and property owners need to give them the power to enforce trespassing laws. Earlier, Senator Shealy had suggested that one solution for the panhandling problem was for people to stop giving these people money. Someone pointed out that several panhandlers are now using children as props to play on people’s hearts. Koon said these people can often make several hundred dollars giving little incentive for them to change.
The greatest amount of crowd anger regarded burglaries, break-ins, and auto theft. People said more manpower was needed and deputies that were working could be better utilized. One man said he’d heard from deputies that morale was low at the department and this was a result of Sheriff Koon. “You hold them back by pulling on the reins,” the man told the sheriff. He suggested that fewer rules and regulations and more policing would make the employees happier and allow them to do their jobs catching crooks. Sheriff Koon said multiple factors are keeping the department from being able to hire, even though they have money for more personnel. “It’s the economy, the generation, and a number of other factors that just keep these people from wanting these jobs,” Koon pointed out. He said adding a deputy cost over $130,000 by the time you hire, equip, and train them. He also said the total training process from application to working the road could be as long as one year.
At the close of the meeting, Carrigan pointed out that the solution to the issues lay right in the room. He said that if the group that attended Monday night didn’t get involved and be a part of the solution, nothing would change. He suggested that neighbors keep meeting and keep communicating amongst themselves through social media and by other means. Community Crime Watch groups were one way that everyone thought that crime could be reduced. He also asked that they work with the Sheriff’s Department to reduce crime and make the area a better place to live and work.