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South Carolina sees unprecedented number of murders in 2020

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 8:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Preliminary data shows South Carolina has seen murders increase by 51 percent over the last five years, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

“Gangs, drugs, and criminal’s access to guns continue to play a significant role,” SLED Chief Mark Keel said of the rise.

Keel said 2020 saw the highest number of murders than any other year on record and expects 2021 to be worse.

“As bad as it was last year, and those numbers aren’t complete yet, 2021 appears to be trending worse. And we are just entering the summer months when traditionally we see a spike in violent crime across our country,” Keel said.

While murders increased by almost 25 percent from 2019 to 2020, aggravated assaults increased by nine percent, and arson increased 21 percent, according to SLED data.

The head of law enforcement in South Carolina said police can’t “arrest” their way out of this situation, so he is calling for the community and lawmakers to help.

“We need them talking to us. We need them to be witnesses when they see something going on in their community,” Keel said.

He said he knows law enforcement needs to continue to work to build trust in the communities they serve, but his men and women are working to strengthen those bonds.

From lawmakers, Keel wants elected officials to stop efforts to “incentivize criminal conduct.”

“People have to be punished and we got to do something with bond again, the bond continues to be a problem. As to how many people that we have that commit crime and are out on bond and are reoffending while out on bond,” Keel said.

The chief also stressed that behind all of these statistics are people and children.

“People are losing children every day,” he said.

Across the state, the SLED leader said the agencies are struggling to fill open posts, morale is down among officials, and law enforcement needs to now assume everyone they interact with is armed.

“I’ve been in this profession for 44 years, I never ever believed we would be policing in the environment we are policing in,” he added.

When Keel took to the microphone Thursday, it was only the second press conference he called in about a decade, but he said he wanted to do so to emphasize the seriousness of this moment.

“My Mentor Chief Steward used to also say if it’s not safe to go to church, go to school, go to work...what do you have? What kind of community do you have? Well, you don’t have much of one,” he said.

SLED officials stress this data is all preliminary and more detailed numbers will be released at a later date.

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