With USC students back, it’s time for the next step in Five Points

Ten months ago, on a crisp October evening, new and returning students mingled with the greater Columbia community in Five Points. The new school year was off to a great start, studies were well underway and new friendships were solidifying. On that particular evening, however, lives were irrevocably changed when a violent act shattered our sense of well-being. We also note with concern the recent crime that has affected students at our neighboring universities as well as our own.

Today, nearly a year later, we remain united in our conviction that safety for our students and all Five Points visitors must be a top priority for the University, the City of Columbia, the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff's Department and the Five Points Association.

We understand that generations of students have congregated in Five Points. It's a natural fit. It's close to campus, offers many amenities for students and is a great place to meet friends after big games or concerts. Indeed, it is because of its popularity and proximity that we continue to press for meaningful safety reform.

Since the shooting we have engaged in many productive discussions with city, county and merchants. USC's Chief of Police continues to meet frequently with his city and county counterparts to implement coordinated policing efforts.

The fall semester is now upon us and it's fair to ask what progress has been made. While we are not ready to say, "All is well in Five Points," we can point to positive change. Lighting has been improved, more emergency call boxes are available and additional surveillance cameras are now in place to assist with policing strategies.

Through our city partnerships we have established a new transportation zone for USC students. Now, they can find the university shuttles and Carolina Cabs in a designated area on Saluda Street. This will enable us to more effectively and efficiently transport students from Five Points back home to their residence halls or apartments. Similarly, public taxi zones will make transportation easier for the general public.

Much progress has been made, and we continue to encourage students to embrace the tenets of "Stand Up Carolina," which strengthens our sense of community and encourages students to react and take appropriate action with respect to unacceptable behavior. Also, we encourage them to travel in groups; stay alert at all times; never leave a club, restaurant or bar alone; and either call a friend, hail a Carolina Cab or use the USC shuttle services for a rides home. These are simple basic precautions that may prevent tragedy.

Yes, despite the progress, there is more to do. Specifically, we need a weekend pedestrian-only zone, which would reduce the potential for crime, and improve pedestrian safety.

We understand that a zone of this type would require a coordinated plan for comprehensive parking, policing and transportation strategies. But we believe, if we work together, we can get this right, protect our communities and become a nationwide model for community/university relations. 

We are appreciative of the positive steps taken, and now ask that the planning be accelerated for the common good of all.