Mayor: "Keep Politics out of Policing"

Mayor Steve Benjamin sounds off on criticial city government incidents

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By Monique Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) -- City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin minces no words involving two critical incidents involving city employees and high-profile members of the community.

The statement is as follows:

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin made the following statement today regarding issues surrounding the Columbia Police Department:

As you know, public safety has and continues to be my top priority in the City of Columbia and, while we’ve made real progress over the past several years, a number of recent high-profile incidents have further demo...nstrated the need for continued focus and action. It is for that reason and because we must ensure the public’s trust in our police department, that last week I called for a SLED investigation into claims made against the Columbia Police Department and I firmly believe that we must allow that investigation to proceed without any political interference. Our state's law enforcement officers are very capable of conducting a thorough investigation. I am confident that they will perform their duties objectively and comprehensively and provide us with a full report to act upon. Furthermore I will make absolutely certain that whatever SLED reports will be transparent and fully disclosed to the public. Let me be clear: I have no tolerance for corruption of any kind and if there is any wrongdoing found as a result of SLED’s investigation, I will push for any wrongdoers to be immediately fired and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It is extremely important that we remove politics from this equation. We must let the cops do their jobs without interference. That is a key concern of mine with this investigation as well as with the issue of Dr. Lonnie Randolph's arrest in Five Points. Out of concern for Dr. Randolph and out of concern for our criminal justice system, I am strongly recommending Dr. Randolph's charges not be dropped before the case reaches the courtroom. Dr. Randolph appears to have a medical condition that influences his behavior beyond his control and, if so, he has my deepest concerns and sympathies. But we must let the legal process unfold like it does for any other citizen. It is up to a judge or a jury, with the victims’ input, to decide the end result, not politicians, police chiefs or administrators. Dr. Randolph's arrest demonstrated why we should not have administrators or elected officials showing up at crime scenes unless specifically requested by law enforcement. However well intentioned, it can send the wrong message and can create an appearance of impropriety and it needs to stop now. People must know that the criminal justice system works the same for all of us and does so without political interference and without special treatment for anyone. Justice for all requires special favors for none. That's why I've asked city legal counsel to draft a policy which I will present at our next City Council meeting clearly stating that, in accordance with our ethics policy, an active crime scene is no place for politicians or administrators. At that same meeting, I will also push for us to move forward with a comprehensive, nationwide search for a permanent Police Chief. It's time to bring stability to CPD’s leadership. I believe a lot of these issues would be easy to resolve if, in fact, the Mayor had the authority to resolve them. As Mayor, I have used the bully pulpit provided this office to push for much needed change and often been successful in doing so. That's how we passed our local preference policy and kept tens of millions of dollars in city contracts with local businesses, that's how we got the Bull Street deal done and that's how we’ve achieved the rebirth of downtown securing roughly $300 million in new capital investment over the past two years alone. But it's important to understand that I have very little administrative authority under our current form of government. Here in Columbia, the Mayor does not supervise city staff, the City Manager or the Police Chief. And when we are faced with challenges like these which require swift and decisive action, all I have is one of seven votes on City Council and the long slow process that goes with it. That is the simple fact of our system, a fact that we need to change. That being said, I will continue to use those tools afforded me to keep pushing for a safer and more secure Columbia. That is my priority, it is the people’s priority and nothing is more important.

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