U.S. attorney, Public Safety highlight success of Aiken Safe Communities initiative
Local police officers, along with a few others, met with the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina on Tuesday to discuss Project Safe Neighborhoods in Aiken.
Sherri Lydon, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, said she is committed to turning the tide of violence in South Carolina.
Lydon sat down Tuesday with Chief Charles Barranco, with Aiken Public Safety; Strom Thurmond Jr., solicitor for the Second Judicial Circuit; and Cynthia Mitchell, community services coordinator with Aiken Public Safety.
Barranco discussed the Aiken Safe Communities Initiative, which goes hand-in-hand with Project Safe Neighborhoods in keeping violent offenders off the street.
“Safe Communities was issued into Aiken six years ago, and these people you see here are the partners we started this program with; and we all work together to continue to make it sustainable today,” Barranco said. “Aiken Safe Communities started out of tragedy in 2011 and 2012 when we lost officers Sandy (Rodgers) and Scotty (Richardson) here in this department in 37 days.”
Aiken police saw a spike in crime in 2012 that had never been seen before, Barranco said.
“We knew we had to do something different,” he said. “We couldn’t arrest our way out of the situation. We had to formulate a place with our partners to move forward – and Aiken Safe Communities was born.”
The Aiken Safe Communities initiative gives repeat violent offenders a chance to get their lives back on track and make better choices.
The program identifies participants based on their criminal histories, and those participants are “put on notice” at a special meeting, where they are informed of how their crimes are affecting the community and that they face an expedited trial and stiffer sentencing if they re-offend. Participants are also presented with opportunities from local businesses and organizations to start making healthier choices.
Since the initiative started in Aiken, there have been 134 participates, and in six years 85 percent of those people have not reoffended, said Thurmond.
“It’s making a difference,” Thurmond said.
Project Safe Neighborhoods was rolled out in 2001 and now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reinvigorated Project Safe Neighborhoods, Lydon said.
“Exactly one year ago he rolled out what we call Project Safe Neighborhoods 2.0,” she said. “It’s a partnership with emphasis on these relationships with law enforcement. We can’t fight violent crime without this partnership. It’s very, very valuable.”
Lydon said the way the program works is they target the worst offenders on the street and decide whether they are better-suited to be prosecuted on the state side of the federal side.
The group also discussed Aiken getting part of a $550,000 dollar grant which will help fast-track criminals to get them in front of a judge and behind bars within 90 days.
Barranco said Aiken Public Safety plans to continue Aiken Safe Communities well into the future and hopes to continue to see a downward trend in the number of reoffending violent offenders in the community.