COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) said 2020 was one of the most violent years on record in the state.
Chief Mark Keel called a rare news conference Thursday afternoon in Columbia. He was joined by a handful of law enforcement leaders and prosecutors from across the state.
Chief Keel said, “Each one of these statistics is a member of our community, our loved ones, neighbors, friends. These are South Carolinians.”
Keel said he is concerned by this increasing amount of violence in the state.
According to preliminary crime data gathered by SLED, murders went up by 25% in 2020. Authorities in South Carolina are reporting 571 murders compared to 457 in 2019.
SLED said the data shows the number of aggravated assaults increased as well last year.
“It’s not just law enforcement’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem,” Keel said.
According to Chief Keel, this spike in violent crime can be attributed to gang activity, drugs and criminal access to guns. He said these factors ‘continue to play a significant role’ in the upward trend in violent crimes.
“People are losing children every day. It needs to stop,” Keel said while answering questions from reporters.
Chief Keel claimed efforts to reform sentencing would ‘incentivize criminal conduct’ and put more people at risk in South Carolina.
Earlier this year, the South Carolina House of Representatives passed a drug sentencing reform bill with bipartisan support. The bill would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.
“No family, who has lost a loved one can be told there are no victims in drug crimes. I’m so sick of hearing that drug crimes are victimless crimes,” Keel said.
According to Keel, law enforcement in South Carolina cannot arrest their way out of this problem. He said, “We got to have the help of our court system, prosecutors, public defenders, our mental health professionals, social services and most importantly we got to have our community involved.”
Chief Keel said the numbers for 2021 are trending even worse. “We’re just entering the summer months where we see a spike in violent crime. Now is the time to work together,” Keel said.
SLED said property crimes, sexual batteries and robberies were down in 2020.
The final 2020 report should be released by the fall.