Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott will not manage the Columbia Police Department. Wednesday Night City council voted instead to get working on hiring a new police chief. There’s only been an “interim” chief since Tandy Carter was fired in May, and it was proposed that the sheriff oversee the police force for the time being. Tuesday, Mayor Steve Benjamin even suggested having Lott take the reins for one year, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the department, then help pick a new chief. But there have been concerns about Lott – an elected official – being in charge of city police in what’s been an appointed role, and just how a union of county and city governments could work in the law enforcement area. City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman says the council carefully weighed their decision.
“We need to increase regionalism and that sort of collaboration from surrounding law enforcement agencies. But at the same time, we need our own police chief to head our department and help facilitate that collaboration.”
Lott issued a statement saying he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for him to comment on city council’s decision. But he said as sheriff the past 14 years, he has always served the law enforcement needs of Columbia residents and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, a new police chief could be hired by the end of the year.
Councilman Newman says the new chief needs to have a number of critical attributes.
“We need somebody who’s fully dedicated to this process that has some familiarity with our downtown neighborhoods, familiarity with the community, and a person that’s really ready to get out there and dedicate their life to making our city better. I mean, we know that we’ve had some issues. And we don’t want anybody who is dead set on committing a crime in Columbia to feel comfortable doing that.”