When will reducing crime be Job 1?

We talk about doing what we can, but when will we start doing it?

If a doctor said you had cancer, would you shrug it off because you feel fine at the moment?

 

Of course not.

Likewise, law-abiding Augustans can't afford to shrug off the area's violence because it doesn't touch them directly.

True enough, the Richmond County Sheriff's Office says robberies, both individual and commercial, are down over last year. And while murders and assaults are up and recent headlines about them have folks talking, the fact remains that if you act prudently -- don't deal in illicit drugs or commit other crimes, don't hang around people who do, and stay off the streets and out of the nightclubs in the wee hours -- you have very little chance of being victimized.

Still, killings, no matter whom they involve, cast a pall on the entire community. It's incumbent on us to do what we can to reduce the violence.

We're not even coming close to doing what we can. Not even close.

The sheriff's office today, according to Sheriff Ronnie Strength, has 34 fewer officers on the street than it did 10 years ago.

Citizen activist Clint Bryant (see column, next page) believes that not only do we need to beef up Strength's regular force, we also need a dedicated gang unit. Bryant and others have been collaborating for several years on solutions -- and with the city at 38 homicides as of last week, here's hoping concrete action is around the corner.

Bryant's efforts may be crucial in moving the community toward a comprehensive strategy. It needs to include not just law enforcement, but the schools, churches, Chamber of Commerce, the courts, civic groups, state lawmakers, the city government and more -- and not just in Richmond County: This problem transcends artificial political lines. Indeed, the two young ladies murdered execution-style here recently were from Aiken.

It's time this community's leaders asked Sheriff Strength what he needs to fight this battle -- and actually get it to him. No more lip service, please.

Our top leaders in education, law enforcement and other area governments need to meet to hammer out a comprehensive strategy and to make sure they're on the same page and not working at cross purposes. Example: Do our various institutions agree on the best way to handle students who are too violent for traditional schools? And do judges mete out sentences that help law enforcement make our streets safer?

One thing the courts can do is throw the book at anyone with an unlicensed gun: a year in jail, at least. In talking to law enforcement, it's clear illegal guns are one of the biggest problems in the community.

"The access to guns is just unbelievable," agrees Bryant.

And what about local preachers? Are they showing sufficient courage in taking on the problems ailing our society -- from rampant illegitimacy to truancy to idleness and drugs and family breakdown? Or are they paying it all lip service?

This is a national problem, certainly -- but it's one that is felt primarily at the local level. That's where the solutions must come.

Is the effort to make it a top priority finally starting?

Are we finally going to do what we can?

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