Mayor's Panel on Violent Crime Meets

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By Monique Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) -- When the murder of 33-year-old Midlands mother of four, Kelly Hunnewell, was gunned down during a late night robbery of a bakery earlier this month, it got the attention of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin in a unique way.

According to the authorities, at least one of the suspects caught on surveillance, was out on bond for another crime at the time of this crime. Benjamin organized the mayor's panel on violent crime and bond reform almost immediately. Veteran law enforcement official turned consultant, Chief Robert Stewart, chairs the committee.

"People already on probation, parole and committing serious crimes on the street should not be able to remain on the street if they continue to commit crimes and hurt people," said Stewart.

The cross section of activists and experts in their own right, including city, county, state, federal, faith community and others brings years of knowledge to the table to tackle current laws, specifically relating to bond, uncover loopholes and find solutions to stopping what they call a vicious cycle of violent crime.

"There's a small number of people who commit the majority of the crimes," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott. "Those are the people we gotta look at, not allowing them to come back doing more crime and climbing the ladder to more violent crimes."

"We're not in charge of punishing individuals but we want to build a case where they go to the proper people to be punished," said interim Columbia Police chief Ruben Santiago.

The panel is tasked to take what they learn from each other and translate it into recommendations to state legislators, perhaps modify current laws, and reduce instances of violent crimes. The panel plans to meet next week, with the hope of submitting official recommendations for change within the next few weeks.

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