By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Feb. 13, 2013
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley pulled out all the stops when it came to his proposal to increase taxes and put police officers on patrol around schools.
His effort was part of a larger proposal — which was reduced by an amendment — to increase property taxes to build two new fire stations, purchase the equipment and hire the staff for those stations, and hire additional officers for school security patrols and the bar and entertainment district downtown.
Mayor Joe Riley
If the measure passes on second reading, property taxes will increase $35 a year on a home valued at $250,000.
Riley’s push for the proposal began by recalling other gun-related tragedies occurring in his lifetime.
“Everyone here who was alive then, remembers when President Kennedy was killed. We remember exactly what we were doing when we heard,” he began. “We all remember where we were when we heard about the unspeakable tragedy of the massacre of the children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“That horrific event not only broke our hearts but it exploded a myth of the serenity and peace and safety of our children — our little children — in school,” he said.
Shortly after the tragedy, Riley said he approached Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen and asked him to research options for how the city’s police force could secure its schools. Mullen came back with a plan that he said he believes is among the most significant things he’s ever worked on in his career.
“In 27 years of law enforcement, I don’t think I’ve ever made a more pressing or more important proposal than this, which is dealing with school security,” he said.
The proposal calls for 18 new police officers to be divided into teams of three and assigned regions containing several schools. They will patrol the areas, monitor the schools, work with the administration on drills and protocols and have a consistent — and deliberately random — presence.
“We’re dealing with scary things,” Mullen said. “We’re dealing with people who want to kill children, kill adults and wreak havoc.”
Several members of the public, many from education backgrounds, spoke to the council urging them to consider efforts to secure students with the use of police force.
Stan Halstead, South Carolina Parent Teacher Association president for District 9, which covers Charleston County, said he sees this issue as a grandfather, father and former police officer. He said this proposal would allow a group of officers to build relationships with the schools that could be critical should an emergency arise.
“What would the people of Newtown give to get their children back?” he asked. “This is not much (money) folks. Think with your heart.”
Councilman Gary White spoke for those in opposition to the hike saying it wasn’t about the goal, but about how to get there.
“It’s about how we fund it,” he said.
Despite questions about alternative ways to fund the project, the reduced proposal passed.