FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) – A surge in violent crime in the city of Florence in 2021 is being addressed in a variety of ways, according to the city’s mayor and police chief.
So far in 2021, there have been four homicides and 12 people injured by gunshots, according to statistics released by the city. In addition, city police have also charged two murder suspects who were out of jail on bond and awaiting trial for other murders.
In a letter to city residents dated June 11, Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin and Police Chief Allen Heidler said “these criminal acts are often people who are known to the victim through acquaintances.” Often they identify themselves as gang members, they said in the letter, which also cited violence stemming from domestic relationships, mental illness, and activities connected to drugs and prostitution.
The mayor and police chief said several steps are being taken to address the issue, including reestablishing the Pee Dee Area Criminal Intelligence Council to help share more information among various law-enforcement officials. The council is made up local, county, state and federal agencies from the Pee Dee area.
“Since February of this year, the PDCID has met monthly to share information regarding criminal activity and remain in contact between meetings to alert member agencies of pertinent criminal activity potentially occurring within their jurisdictions,” the letter said.
“In addition to working closely with the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, the city police department’s criminal investigations and special investigations units work closely with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the FBI’s Violent Crime Task Force to identify and monitor gang members and drug offenders in an effort to track down and prosecute violent offenders,” the letter said.
Officials are also taking steps to address mental health issues. Heidler attends monthly meetings with Pee Dee Mental Health as part of a mental health law-enforcement advisory council. Law enforcement response to calls involving people with mental health problems is also being addressed, and Pee Dee Mental health has a crisis intervention team that responds to help officers with those types of calls, the letter said.
“We encourage residents to request assistance from available community resources to address mental health care concerns for a family member or friend,” officials wrote in the letter, adding that help is available through the crisis intervention team by calling 843-317-4073. Help is also available through the South Carolina Mental Health Mobile Crisis Program by calling 833-364-2274.
In addition, with many COVID-19 restrictions no long in place, the city’s police department will also be resuming in-person neighborhood and business crime watch association meetings over the next several months.
“These associations are vital partnerships between the police and the community for the purpose of proactively addressing criminal activity concerns,” the letter said.
There is also an anonymous tip line operated by Crime Stoppers of the Pee Dee — 888-274-6372 (CRIMESC) — that provides residents a way to share information about criminal activity.
“The city’s police department is dependent upon community members to share information so that issues related to criminal activity can be addressed appropriately,” the letter said.