Greenwood Mayor Brandon Smith said he was troubled by a span of four shootings in five days within city limits, and pledged to constituents that public safety remains his top priority.
“We’ve got some problems going on. Since Christmas, we’ve had a number of shootings, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it. There may be more. We’re putting ourselves in a position to do everything we can to combat this,” Smith told Greenwood County Democrats on Saturday at their monthly meeting. “I don’t think that simply having more police is the solution, but it is one thing we can do.”
Over the summer – as officials were confronting a wave of gun-related crime — Police Chief Gerald Brooks said the city has 53 sworn officers, with $340,981 budgeted to fill five vacancies.
Each patrolman costs $68,196 a year, including equipment and uniforms, with starting pay of $31,699.
And in a year where the City Council approved a property tax increase for the first time since 2016, coming up with even more money to add police officers isn’t feasible, Smith said.
Instead, he wants to focus on youth development programs and community outreach initiatives designed at filtering people away from a life of crime.
“Getting out into neighborhoods, making sure that everyone has a point person they can call, not just 911. Somebody that’s been on their front porch and in their living room,” Smith said. “It’s a complex problem, but one that I’ll work on until I’m blue and dead to come up with a solution.”
He has an ally in community activist Annette Edwards, who ran against Smith for mayor and now hopes to work closely with him to address ongoing gun violence in the city.
“I understand the concept of law enforcement but if we’re not in the community, on the scene, it’s not helping. We’ve got to make some kind of contact in the streets. With all the new projects coming, it’s not going to be a hill of beans to us if people are scared to come out of their own house,” she said Saturday.
Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office investigator Cody Bishop told the Index-Journal this week that the five shooting calls from Dec. 24 to Jan. 1 are believed to be “acts of retaliation. You can tie trends into all of them from earlier incidents,” he said.
Smith said he’s been asked to serve on a steering committee set up by the Boys & Girls Club in cooperation with Greenwood native and NFL star Josh Norman to draft a needs report that could lead to the establishment of a recreational center within the city.
A community violence expert is also going to work with local leaders through the United Way of Abbeville and Greenwood Counties, Smith said Saturday.
“I would like to get to the root of the problem, and if that means I don’t get re-elected in four years, I’m OK with that. I would like to put a program in place to help the next generation so they don’t commit this violence,” he said.
Smith credited Norman’s commitment to the issue, but said it’s not responsible for officials to look to his celebrity as the answer.
“We can’t wait for a once-in-a-five generation superstar who signed a big contract to bail us out,” Smith said. “We are very fortunate to have a Josh Norman who wants to give back, but safety is the No. 1 thing that keeps me up at night.”
Smith isn’t alone in expressing his concern. Just before the latest spate of shootings, County Council members Edith Childs and Theo Lane and former member Gonza Bryant issued a mutual statement saying that of the more than 200 suggestions provided through a series of 10 public forums between June and October, a number are being phased in or researched for implementation.
“Many of these suggestions are outside of the realm, scope, and authority of Greenwood County to implement. There were several suggestions that were offered that many of the stakeholders have worked to bring to fruition. While programs are valuable and can have an impact, there is no impact that is more valuable than the love and discipline that each child needs to receive in their own homes, churches, and community,” the council members wrote.
County officials also backed Smith’s assertion that a public recreation center could happen “sooner rather than later.”
“The leadership of the Boys and Girls Club have been in Greenwood and have toured several facilities that have the potential to be utilized for their renowned programming. It is our belief that Greenwood County will soon be home to a Boys and Girls Club that will provide our community with the programming, education, and personal growth that will be a long term deterrent of the community violence,” council members said.