The number of property crimes committed in Orangeburg is showing a decrease.

From Jan. 1 until July 31, there were 218 larcenies citywide. Compared to the same time period the year before, there were 224.

For reports of motor vehicle thefts, there have been 18 this year, compared to 26 reported during the same time last year.

Orangeburg Department of Public Safety Director Charles Austin Sr. said Operation City Lights has been helping curb crime in general.

The initiative started about seven weeks ago and will continue as long as necessary, Austin said.

Austin said Operation City Lights is a collaborative use of DPS resources.

“We conduct traffic checkpoints and are in the process of conducting meetings with business owners, motel owners, hotel owners,” he said.

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“There are areas where we have high volumes of incidents than others,” Austin said, “and we have increased the level of presence in those areas.”

One of the ways ODPS is increasing its presence is through firetrucks, Austin said.

“It’s not uncommon now that we might take a firetruck into a community, turn on the spotlight and light up the sky,” he said, “because the criminal element has to have some place of concealment from which to operate.”

“We’ve identified those and we continue an intense presence in those areas so that we flush out what’s going on and then we have checkpoints that are available, so once it flushes out, we pick it up,” he said.

“What I would like to do is place four firetrucks strategically at major entry points – ingress, egress points throughout the city – and on a given night have them turn on the search lights so you can see an apex at some point over the city,” he said.

“We’re trying to create a sustainable lighted presence so we don’t provide a place of concealment for criminal activity,” Austin said.

While the agency is concentrated on flushing out crime, officials are also focusing on “providing a security shield to other places that haven’t been affected before,” Austin said.

ODPS is in the process of surveying lighting throughout the city. If there are areas that need improvement, Austin will present findings to city leaders.

Austin also explained that Operation City Lights means increasing the presence of officers in various areas.

“We’ve been able to create presence. We’ve changed shifts, for example, so Capt. (Victor) Cordon has investigators coming in at varying hours,” he added.

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“Capt. (Alfred) Alexander has modified his shifts so he’s created an overlapping presence rather than just depending on Alpha shift having six people in the street. He’s integrated it in a way a portion of Bravo shift may come in at a split time so now you have an increased presence,” Austin said.

“We are continuing to utilize high-profile, high-visibility approaches, but also maintaining community outreach and partnering with as many public and private groups as we can to talk about what each can contribute,” Austin said.

“I’ve met with representatives from a couple of civic organizations who’ve expressed an interest in how they can partner with us,” Austin said.

“Recently, the city administrator and I have been meeting with the superintendent of the school district and other stakeholders throughout the community about how we can partner with the school district, not just individual schools, but beyond school resource officers and how we can establish relationships,” Austin said.

Austin said ODPS has recently received money to initiate a Teens and Police Service Academy.

Austin will assign four officers to work with a group of 25 students who have been identified as at-risk, he said.

He noted the Orangeburg County School District is helping the agency set up the program “so there won’t be a labeling or stigmatizing process.”

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“We want the kids to understand if there’s a need they have, if we can’t fulfill it, we can facilitate that need or issue,” Austin said. “So that relationship takes us beyond having an officer presence at the school; it engages us in these children’s personal lives.”

Austin said the agency is also working to address the crimes of domestic and gun violence.

For domestic violence, Austin said, “That has been a very critical issue for us. It has to be more than just about making arrests.”

Austin said there needs to be ways to refer the batterers to long-term counseling programs while also tending to the needs of victims and other household members, particularly children.

When it comes to addressing gun violence, Austin said there’s not a single answer.

Currently, ODPS uses fixed-post cameras but may consider purchasing drones as additional tools.

Austin also noted, “Even if our numbers (of incidents) aren’t as high as perception, the perception is the reality. We in no way want to diminish the significance of how gun violence, in particular, can drive the fear of crime.”

“If you’re having two shooting incidents in Orangeburg, but there are also incidents that are happening in the Midlands and still yet you have other incidents that are happening around the country, it’s to the point now when nobody can turn on a television or pick up a newspaper or go online without seeing where there has been a string of shooting incidents,” Austin said.

“So my perception is, ‘Yeah, I know they told me we only had two of these in Orangeburg, but what I’m seeing on television or what I’m reading online convinces me that this is all over the place and we’re no more safe than anybody else,’” Austin said.

Last year, there were a total of four homicides in Orangeburg.

Austin said two of those were determined to be justified.

So far this year, there have been four homicides. Investigators haven’t determined if any of them were justified.

Austin said, “We realize from the public safety standpoint, particularly the police services standpoint, the decision by a CEO, a developer or business person and that person’s significant other” to move to Orangeburg and establish business is going to depend on the answer to, “How safe are we? And what are the leisure services like?”

Austin said his youngest daughter and his 5-year-old grandson recently visited.

Austin showed them four options he is considering for housing.

He noted that his daughter responded, “Daddy, you’ve shown use four places, and I only feel that you’re safe in one.”

His 5-year-old grandson asked him, “Where’s the nearest park?”

“And that spoke volumes to me,” Austin said.

Austin said what was important to his daughter is that he live in a safe and secure community.

He noted what was important to his grandson is that when he comes to visit, he’s able to go to the park.

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Austin recalled that when he served as Columbia’s police chief, he lived in a neighborhood that was “very peaceful, quiet and everybody felt safe.”

“What I want for the City of Orangeburg is for every neighborhood to have the same feeling my daughter had at the place that we looked at – and that I’m ultimately going to call home. Every neighborhood should have that same feeling,” Austin said.

“That’s the key point of our responsibility is to make sure that happens,” Austin said.

Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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