IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Inside a South Carolina City’s Real-Time Crime Center

The Columbia Police Department and Mayor Steve Benjamin pulled back the curtain Tuesday and offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at the city's real-time crime and emergency operations center.

crime (2)
(TNS) — The massive, interconnected screens stretch nearly from one end of the room to the other, and take up almost an entire wall.

Some of them show real-time weather radar for the entire country. Others project live camera feeds of some of the most popular areas in town, where residents and tourists gather. One bank of screens shows icons depicting the locations of every active police car and firetruck in the city. And still others show where gunshots have been fired in the last seven days in some of the city's most violent neighborhoods, down to the last bullet.

The display makes for a scene out of a Michael Bay movie, or perhaps one of those modern TV police procedurals that have long been popular on CBS.

But this isn't Hollywood. It's Columbia.

The Columbia Police Department and Mayor Steve Benjamin pulled back the curtain Tuesday and offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at the city's real time crime and emergency operations center. The facility, which became fully operational in January and is housed in the police department's metro region headquarters on Main Street, is a sort of central nerve center that allows police and city emergency workers to monitor events in real time.

Among other features, the center allows personnel to tap into hundreds of city-owned cameras throughout Columbia. Some locations displayed on screens during a Tuesday news conference included live views of Five Points, the State House grounds and an area outside of Main's Best store on Main Street north of Elmwood Avenue. The city is in the midst of a multi-year, $8 million initiative to add and upgrade cameras throughout Columbia.

Benjamin said Tuesday that while "good, old fashioned policing" is key to fighting crime, he thinks the technology at use in the emergency operations center is a "force multiplier" that can significantly bolster efforts.

The city previously had an emergency operations center on Lady Street before moving to the new location in the 1800 block of Main Street late last year. The center not only gives the city a state of the art command center during major disasters or critical emergencies, but also the opportunity to monitor the city day-to-day.

"We know we are not in crisis, emergency mode every single day, but we are in a police response operational mode every day, and that's what this center represents," police Chief Skip Holbrook said Tuesday.

Columbia has had bright spots and low points in regard to crime this year. For instance, gun murders and overall crime are down compared to a year ago, per police statistics, but there have been more nonfatal shootings in the city, and violent crime is up 11%.

Meanwhile, violence statewide has risen, according to a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division report. SLED Chief Mark Keel said murders have increased 53% in the last five years in the Palmetto State.

"We know we have a violent crime problem," Holbrook said. "We've had a violent crime problem for over a decade. ... I think how we are leveraging technology is what's allowing us to see some gains, but really holding the line at a time when we are seeing unprecedented violence throughout the state and nationally."

While Benjamin stressed there has been improvement in some crime statistics in Columbia, he lamented the overall trend of violence seen throughout the Palmetto State.

"We do have too many guns in the street," the third-term mayor said. "When you have a country where you have more firearms in our streets than you actually have people, we've got a problem."

© 2021 The State (Columbia, S.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.