(David Waterman, affiliate WVOC in Columbia)
Columbia has struggled with a decision about how the city’s law enforcement should be led. Under debate is the idea of letting popular Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott take over the city’s public safety. Police Chief Tandy Carter lost his job after refusing to relinquish control of an investigation of a downtown car accident involving the mayor-elect Steve Benjamin.
Now Benjamin, as mayor, is offering a compromise on what to do about a new police chief. He spoke to affiliate WVOC in Columbia yesterday, saying the capital city does need its own chief…eventually.
Columbia is too big and too important a city – the largest city in the state – to not have a police chief. I think right now until we start having some more extensive conversations about consolidation of government or law enforcement, what have you, that right now we need to focus on making sure we have a police chief.
Benjamin says for the next year, he favors Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott managing the Columbia Police Department,
Having the sheriff help us to organize, reorganize the city police department to make it the most effective law enforcement agency in the state or country is a good use of taxpayer dollars. And at the end of that time period, I think we need to hire a chief and move forward. We’ll have a wonderful relationship with our sheriff’s department. I think taxpayers will be very happy with the leadership that we’re showing.
At least three of the seven members on city council have opposed Lott’s supervision, feeling the department needs its own leader who can focus specifically on law enforcement in Columbia and who can get that going soon.
The mayor says the issue will come up for a vote at today’s city council meeting, and some decision will be made to bring all the debate to a close.