COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Preliminary crime statistics for 2020 show a disturbing increase in violent crime across South Carolina.
Numbers released by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) on Thursday revealed the rate of murders increased by nearly 25% last year, while aggravated assaults were up approximately 9%.
Although property crimes are decreasing, authorities say arson increased by nearly 21% after a steady decline in both 2018 and 2019.
“I am extremely concerned by the increasing amount of violence in our state including the number of murders and assaults,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said. “I am particularly troubled at the steady increase in the number of murders taking place. We have seen murders increase 51% over the past five years in South Carolina.”
Chief Keel said gangs, drugs, and criminals’ access to guns is playing a significant role in the rising crime rates.
“In fact, according to the DEA, in 2020 more than 30,000 gangs operate on the streets of America with nearly all involved not only in distributing drugs but also in committing violent crimes,” Keel said. “Yet given this alarming surge, it is very disheartening to see so much effort and attention being directed to anti-public safety legislation that puts criminals back on the street and makes our communities less safe.”
2020 PRELIMINARY DATA FOR VIOLENT AND PROPERTY CRIME COMPARED TO 2019
SLED stated that data being collected for the 2020 Uniform Crime Report is preliminarily showing the rate of violent crime has increased 5% compared to 2019 and 11% since 2015. Property crimes have dropped approximately 6% in 2020 when compared to the previous year.
“Efforts like sentencing reform often only serve to incentivize criminal conduct,” Keel said. “If we make the prosecution of drug crimes more difficult and we decrease the punishment for breaking the law, the public’s safety becomes more at risk. Drug crimes are inherently violent, and we should not incentivize this criminal behavior.”
EXTRA: Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds discusses rise in violent crime
Keel said repeat offenders are a large part of the problem. “We’ve got to do something with bond again. Bond continues to be a problem; how many people do we have that commits a crime are out on bond and reoffending while they’re out on bond?”
He said law enforcement also needs more cooperation from witnesses. “We need them talking to us you know, we need them to be witnesses. When they see something going on in their community, we need them to be those people that sound the alarm.”
The problem is more than statistics; Keel said each one of those statistics is a member of the community. “These are loved ones, our neighbors, our friends. These are South Carolinians.”
The data compiled for the SLED report comes from sheriff’s departments and police departments across the state.
The current data is as of May 27. The full Crime in South Carolina 2020 report is being finalized and is expected to be released by the end of summer.