REDUCING YOUTH VIOLENCE: Local leaders team up to combat the issue of rising crime

Alex Tejada


COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — According to data from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, 206 shootings occurred in Richland County in 2021. Last year also brought a 25 percent increase in violent crimes among youth.

Saying that recreation is a way to keep kids busy and out of trouble, local leaders believe that parks could be the place for children to safely have fun. “The neighborhoods I grew up in are not that different. Not having access and positive influences can lead to most of the things we’re seeing,” said Lakita Watson, Richland County Recreation Commission director. What Richland County is seeing is an increase in homicides among the youth in the past year.

“We need safe places for our young people to go, have fun and do something to keep them busy,” said Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County. The sheriff’s department and recreation committee have spoken about possibly keeping parks open later for kids to have a safe place to go. “We also discussed transportation. We have a large county,” Watson said. “How do we identify partners to assist us in getting young people to the facilities and activities we’re talking about sponsoring?” Changing children’s lives for the better is also not just about fun and games.

“We recognize that youth work is important,” the RCRC director said. “When you identify funds that allow young people to have jobs, skills and careers, it can change the trajectory of an individual’s life.” Watson says she hopes to emphasize not just on recreation but also getting young ladies involved through music, art, fashion or whatever they find out interests them. “They’re going to tell us what’s really working,” Watson said. “What used to be cool for me in the 90s might not be as cool in 2022.”

Sheriff Lott also spoke about having mentors at the parks in order to teach the kids positive life lessons. He also urges gun owners in the community to securely store their weapons in order to keep them out of the wrong hands.