Walterboro safety initiative drives major drop in violent crime

WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - Walterboro is a small town that has been in the headlines in recent years for violent crimes like murder, rape, robbery and assault. Newly released FBI statistics show violent crime in Walterboro is on the decline, about 30 percent lower since it peaked in 2007.

The population is fewer than 6,000, but in the past four years there were eight murders, more than 100 armed robberies, and a drive-by shooting that left three dead, including a baby.

"Real afraid, I was afraid," Marilyn Rice said.

"They needed more protection, more activities so children could get involved so they won't do the violence," Jakeem Wright said.

Following  violence in Walterboro and the 2009 drive-by shooting on Gerideau Street that left 20-month-old Shaniyah Burden, 21-year-old Christopher Powell, and 45-year-old Charles Kittrell dead, citizens cried out for a change. Three years ago city officials began putting safety initiatives in place to combat crime problems.

It was all in partnership with local government, police, sheriff's deputies, SLED, education leaders, and citizens. It's known as the "10-Point Plan."

"We're making progress and we're very happy to see that progress. We know that we still have work to do," Mayor Bill Young said.

To keep crime down safety initiatives include:

- suspect verification through DMV online

- night patrols at businesses

- citizen outreach about problems

- officers mentoring at-risk youth

- citizen interaction in high crime areas

Despite past headlines, new residents find Walterboro welcoming and safe.

"Quaint little town. We just love it. Where we live it looks like you're out in the country," Dawn Hilaman said.

"I see a lot of police activity here so apparently law enforcement is on the job, you can't hold them solely responsible for all crime. They do what they're able to do," Bobby Hilaman said.

According to Walterboro officials a significant decrease in violent crime is expected again this year given current projections and is a result of the efforts to turn things around.

Despite the reduction in violent crime, FBI stats show an increase in property crimes in Walterboro, from 2009 to 2010. City officials say that may be because of the city's focus on fighting violent crime, but property crimes rates are expected to decline this year by 20 percent.

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