City, county could share law enforcement head

With current turmoil in the Columbia Police Department, some city council members are already talking about solutions.

One involves consolidating Columbia TMs public safety With Richland County's. In effect, they're exploring the possibility of the sheriff also becoming the chief.

What would such a move mean if the city and county shared the same top cop?

With the Columbia Police Department under its second interim chief in the past couple of months, some city leaders say this is a good time to review police force operations.

City Councilman Kirkman Finlay is floating the idea of consolidating city and county law enforcement.

Is our form of policing the best way to do things? Not to say that anything's wrong, but if you don't ask those kinds of questions you won't get any kind of results, Finlay said.

The concept has been tossed around since the 1970s. Proponents say consolidation would streamline law enforcement and eliminate jurisdictional issues. They also suggest it would put less burden taxpayers.

Columbia Mayor Bob Coble supports the idea but says it would have to be properly examined before anything is established.

Officials have reached out to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott for input on such an effort and to possibly head it up. But at this point, Lott says he's not ready to commit.

My answer was yes, I would be willing to sit down and listen to people. But that's as far as it went. I can't really tell you how it would happen, the concepts our how you would put it together, Lott said.

Consolidated law enforcement by itself is a good thing. I think it would be an efficient way to do law enforcement, said Howard Duvall.

Duvall is the executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina. He says placing city police under the control of an elected sheriff can create problems.

My concern about consolidating with the sheriff as the head of it is the sheriff is an elected official. If you're going to consolidate your police functions it needs to be with a professional police chief rather than an elected sheriff, Duvall said.

It's too early for me to even think about it. I don't want to focus on something right now that I don't have to. My focus right now is being the sheriff of Richland County, said Lott.

In recent years, Horry and Charleston counties tried putting sheriffs in charge of combined forces. Both counties have since gone back to separate city-county structures.