An open letter to students about safety

Oct. 24, 2013

Dear Students,

It’s been a little over a week and a half since Martha Childress was wounded in Five Points. In the days since, the university has been proactive in communicating with Martha’s family, our students and state and local officials. We are engaged in productive discussions with the Columbia Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. While plans are still evolving, I want to let you know where we are today.

The university, local merchants and the community have expressed support for coordinated policing efforts. Our director of University Law Enforcement and Safety is in regular conversations with Interim Police Chief Santiago and Sherriff Lott. I am encouraged that a multi-agency policing strategy will be in place this weekend with officers from both CPD and RCSD engaged in addressing the issues of violent crime in the Five Points area and USCPD playing a supporting role on and near campus.

I have expressed my desire to see the bars close earlier in Five Points. However, I understand that a uniform closing time may create its own problems with crowding. We hope to alleviate some of that crowding by reintroducing shuttle service to Five Points beginning this Friday and Saturday. This weekend, shuttles will operate from 9:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. along two campus routes. The Dodie/Blatt Route will include pickup and drop off at The Dodie and the Blatt P.E. Center. The Capstone/Greek Village Route will include pickup and drop off at Capstone, the Russell House and the Greek Village. In Five Points, both routes will drop off and pick up at the fountain.

While street closings will not take place this Friday or Saturday, I am pleased that a conversation has begun about making Five Points a pedestrian district on weekend nights. Concerns over parking, transportation and the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods are all important but our community can solve these problems. There are many examples nationwide where pedestrian access actually enhances the nightlife atmosphere and patron safety while also ensuring economic viability to the entertainment district.

I am pleased that the city of Columbia plans to increase the security infrastructure in Five Points. USC will also do its part by installing additional call boxes and improved lighting on selected routes between Five Points and campus.

Finally, working in collaboration with our many student groups, we will continue to support and promote additional activities on campus as a fun alternative to Five Points. That begins tonight with the “Not So Thirsty Thursday” concert at the Strom intramural fields: 76 and Sunny starts at 10 p.m., and shuttle service from the Horseshoe, Capstone, the Russell House, The Dodie, Bates House and Blatt P.E. Center will be provided from 9:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. This event is being presented by the fraternity and sorority community in a united show of support for Martha.

While I am guardedly optimistic about the prospects for a safe and enjoyable weekend, the security issues that exist in Five Points after midnight cannot be fixed in two weeks. A sustainable solution can only be achieved through continued planning and cooperation. The status quo is not acceptable, and all parties must be willing to embrace change to protect our community.

In closing, let me thank each of you for your input and your outpouring of concern for Martha and for each other. I am proud of your willingness to stand up for Carolina. Let’s have a big showing tonight to let Martha know that we care about her, we miss her and we hope to have her back on campus as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Harris Pastides