A sign in downtown Columbia advertises the city’s many vacant police officer positions. (Photo by Audrey Elsberry)
Columbia City Council approved $1.2 million for multiple upgrades for the Columbia Police Department, including new radios, cars and upscaled security at the city’s Rapid homeless shelter at its Nov. 1 meeting.
The money comes as the department hopes to improve recruitment and retention rates for officers. CPD long has struggled with a staffing shortage. The department is about 25% short of officers, with 75 vacancies as of Nov. 1, WIS-TV reported recently.
“There’s a lot of investment in the city for a better quality of life for each and every citizen,” Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said of the funding.
More than $300,000 will go toward new Motorola police radios.
“(Having a good radio) can be a life or death situation, for the cop or for someone they’re helping,” Logan McVey, Rickenmann’s senior advisor, said.
The funding also will be used to buy new vehicles, according to City Council documents. An allocation of more than $60,000 will see five 2023 Ford Escapes added to the fleet.
The new SUVs will be used by officers responding to mental health emergencies, Columbia Chief of Police Skip Holbrook said.
“Anytime we can add something to our fleet that helps us deliver service better we are very, very pleased with it,” Holbrook said.
More than $1 million will go to Allied Universal Security Services to provide services for the city’s Rapid Shelter Columbia project.
The ongoing shelter project, an expansion of the former Inclement Weather Center, will add a series of 50 cabins to house and provide transitional services for chronically homeless people in the city. Construction began in September and is expected to be complete in November, a statement on the city’s website said.
The funding for equipment updates and the security contract for the shelter project from City Council does not include any funding for officer pay raises.
But the police funding should help bring in new officers and retain current ones, McVey said. He said having vehicles that police officers can use off duty as well is an important hiring incentive.
CPD wants to have “the ability to move officers up the chain of command when more entry level officers are recruited, resulting in the ability to pay officers more money with higher-up titles,” McVey said.
The funding comes after Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott in late October asked County Council for money for officer pay raises, after council members voted to increase their own pay.
“I believe the overall relationship between County Council and Sheriff Lott is a good one, but each council member may have a different individual relationship with the Sheriff,” Malinowski said via email to The Carolina News & Reporter last week.
Malinowski said any salary increases would have to be reviewed with budgetary concerns before any decisions were made.
“I support our law enforcement and want to make sure their needs are met, both in salary and equipment, but I don’t want to see any funds spent unnecessarily,” he said.
Columbia City Council approved $1.2 million for Columbia Police Department improvements at its Nov. 1 meeting. Mayor Daniel Rickenmann says the funding is evidence that the council is investing in the city. (Photo by Caleb Bozard)
The approved funding request will be used in part to purchase five new SUVs for CPD. (Photo by Audrey Elsberry)
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Bozard is a senior journalism student at the University of South Carolina and is a news editor at the student-run Daily Gamecock. He has covered topics such as university politics and social issues. He investigated anti-Asian and Asian American racism on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic and covered leaked, racially charged and homphobic student government communications. He recently interned for the Orangeburg Times and Democrat and is a first generation college student from Barnwell, S.C.
Elsberry is a senior journalism major and outreach director for the student-run Daily Gamecock. She minors in criminal justice and retail because she can’t choose between covering crime or fashion. Elsberry has written about repurposed cigarette vending machines and the importance of investing in local infrastructure. In her free time, she crochets, paints and makes her own jewelry.