Columbia awarded federal dollars for policing efforts

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Less than a week after Columbia police chief Randy Scott marked one year on the job by announcing his department is operating at full strength for the first time in 15 years, he has another reason to celebrate.

On Monday, the city announced the United States Department of Justice awarded the Columbia police department a $732,320 grant through the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, hiring program. The nearly million dollar federal grant will allow the department to add five officers to expand the department's community policing efforts.

"We want officers to be able to be on the streets communicating with our citizens, and to not be tasked with the everyday policing duties," said Chief Randy Scott.

This is the second grant Columbia has received through the COPS hiring program. In 2009, the city was awarded $2.8 million in order to hire 18 officers.

The concept of community policing has been a hallmark of Scott's time as Columbia's top cop and he hopes this latest grant will allow the initiative to grow even more.

"When you go through change it takes time for the community to trust," said Scott. "That's what it's about, it's about trust in what you're doing."

Finding the money to help those efforts happens at Columbia's City Hall. Chris Segars is Columbia's only grants professional. First, she has to find the programs handing out the cash, then has to make the case that Columbia can turn those bucks into a plus for the community.

"We have gotten money for some of the city parks. We have gotten money for firefighting equipment, we've gotten money for police equipment," said Segars.

Since 2009, Segars has helped secure $8 million of the city's roughly $33 million in grant money. Columbia is an entitlement city as the state's capital, which means some funding is automatically allocated to city programs. Other dollars need to be earned with a solid plan and pitch to the agency distributing the funds, helping Segars earn a rep as someone who is magic with money.

"I have been very lucky, very blessed and I work with some very capable people here at the city," said Segars. "I don't ever do anything in a vacuum. I need input from everyone."

Just like the situation Chief Scott is hoping to foster by pushing all the officers in the his department to reach out and create a culture of trust with the community.

"The philosophy of the department is community policing," said Scott. "You're going to find that the neighborhoods and the communities are more willing to participate with law enforcement. And at the end of the day that's what solves crimes."

Three other law enforcement agencies in South Carolina received 2011 COPS hiring program funds. The Hampton County Sheriff's Department received $228,764. The city of Hardeeville received $181,548 and the Spartanburg Department of Public Safety received $131,177.