Stronger sentencing guidelines, new surveillance technology and better communication between law enforcement and community groups top an agenda for combating violence on Hilton Head Island.
"There's a growing interest to improve our crime-information technology -- looking in the budget for the addition of more observation cameras, which have unequivocally proven their value to the community in aiding investigations," said Councilman Bill Harkins, chairman of the Town Council's Public Safety Committee.
Town officials met informally in recent weeks with Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone after 8-year-old islander Khalil Singleton was killed. He had been playing with friends in his grandmother's yard Sept. 1 in the crossfire of a gun battle.
Since then, more gun violence has erupted on the island, and a Hilton Head man was beaten to death in the same area Oct. 21.
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Tanner and Stone stressed the importance of state sentencing reform and continued support of the Solicitor's Office career-criminal team to get hardened criminals off the streets.
"Everything we have done since 2009, including hiring a crime analyst a year ago trained by the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, means we're making early determinations of who these (career) criminals are, and that's helped us build cases to supplement what law enforcement has already done," Stone said.
He estimates the team's conviction rate is more than 90 percent.
The town has contributed about $35,000 annually to the career-criminal program -- aimed at prosecuting people who repeatedly commit violent crimes -- since it began in 2009.
Three men who investigators say were involved in the gun battle that killed Singleton are convicted felons, but were released from prison after the career-criminal program started. Their arrests last month are the first felony charges against them since their releases.
Tyrone Robinson, accused of firing the bullet that killed Singleton, was sentenced to 13 years in 2003 for stealing a car and leading a state trooper on a high-speed chase. He was released after serving a little more than half of the sentence, illustrating the need for sentencing reform, Stone says.
Tanner said he would like to put uniformed school resource officers in elementary schools to help them curb bad habits "at an impressionable age."
He also encouraged town officials to consider purchasing an automatic license-plate reader to aid searches for wanted and missing persons and stolen vehicles. The Sheriff's Office used a $52,000 federal grant to buy two mobile license-plate readers for use countywide.
Tanner and Stone have also agreed to serve as advisers to a new Hilton Head Island Community Action Group formed in response to the Singleton shooting.
Members said the group is in its infancy. They continue to define the organization's role and mission on Hilton Head.
"The purpose of the Action Committee is to become proactive in solving some of the social issues on the island, especially addressing crime," organizer and Ward 1 Town Council candidate Marc Grant said. "Overall, this has been an excellent opportunity for the community to brainstorm and listen to each other's shared concerns."
- Sheriff's Office license-plate readers could raise privacy concerns: Oct. 1, 2012
- Solicitor, sheriff push sentencing reform: Sept. 29, 2012
- Man charged in 8-year-old's shooting waives hearing, so does father: Sept. 20, 2012
- Crime analyst helps solicitor's team target 'worst of the worst': Jan. 28, 2012