By Stan Welch
A community outreach meeting held at the Pelzer community building Monday night revealed several interesting facts about the current state of the town and surrounding community.
The one inescapable fact to come out of the meeting is that crime in the area is the number one concern of those who live there. That fact was amplified by the attendance, which exceeded eighty people.
Pelzer Heritage Commission member Dianne Lollis presided over the meeting. Seven or eight elected officials, law enforcement representatives, and civic activists made presentations; focused entirely on the issue of crime, its impact on the area, and ways to address it.
Pelzer Town Councilwoman Cheryl Boudreau reminded the audience that a Pelzer Crime Watch has been in existence since this time last year, but has had very little participation.
She also reported that she has been talking with West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton about the possibility of the West Pelzer police providing patrol and response services to the town. That happened a few years ago, with Pelzer basically paying approximately $18,000 for the services of an officer. The arrangement ended after one year because Pelzer could not afford the cost; a factor that still exists.
An audience member quickly pointed out that the Town couldn’t afford to open its swimming pool this summer, and questioned how they would be able to pay for police protection.
Boudreau acknowledged the problem, but stressed that such protection is essential, saying that without it, Pelzer can expect more and more drugs and thugs in its future.
“I know we don’t want that” she said, adding that if fifty one percent of the town’s actual corporate residents sign a petition asking for such help, it would be, in her words, “a done deal. Or the Council can vote on it, and I can’t promise how that would go.”
The issue of cost would be approached from a couple of different tangents later in the meeting; but ACSO Capt. Darrell Hill spoke next, extolling the virtues of crime watch organizations and citizen involvement. He also warned that several notorious and well known thieves and burglars had recently been released from county custody; and crime rates could be expected to spike again soon.
A number of attendees raised questions and issues about the ACSO’s performance, and response times. Hill explained the limitations on manpower, the daunting size of the four patrol districts in the county, and the requirements of proof and probable cause that must be met before law enforcement can act in any given situation.
“We put these people in jail because we mostly know who they are. But they serve a little time, or make bail; and they go right back to what they were doing. I know it’s frustrating to you folks, because it’s frustrating to us too.” Hill encouraged everyone to report every incident, no matter how minor, or how unlikely that a solution might seem.
Lloyd Robinson, community services officer for the Sheriff’s department, offered perhaps the most useful information of the evening, when he explained a number of simple, relatively inexpensive steps residents can take to “harden” their homes as targets for thieves and burglars.
He also explained that his office will conduct security surveys of private homes and businesses that will point out weaknesses in the location’s security arrangements. “We will do that survey and give you a written report at no cost to you.”
He also stressed the importance of maintaining a complete inventory of valuables, from jewelry to weed eaters, along with serial numbers and descriptions. “You’d be amazed how many times a deputy will ask someone what kind of large flat screen TV was stolen from their house, and the people can’t tell us. “
He also pointed out that approximately sixty per cent of home burglaries and vehicle break-ins occur because the house or car was left unlocked. “Folks, we’re doing all we can, but if you could make it just a little harder on these boys, it would be a big help.”
County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson spoke briefly about seven abandoned homes in the Pelzer area that are slated for demolition. She encouraged people to report other sites that are being used for criminal activity; but cautioned that the process to identify owners, notify them and condemn the houses legally, as well as get them in the budget, can take up to two years.
She then turned the microphone over to State Rep. Anne Thayer, who offered to work with law enforcement in trying to streamline the process of training new officers and getting them certified, so that they can be put into actual service in less than the year or more that it currently takes. She also opined that criminals should be treated a little less gently while in jail. “It’s like putting your child in timeout with his Xbox and Wii. Jail shouldn’t be pleasant. That’s why these people don’t mind coming back so much.”
Community activist and annexation supporter Gilbert Garrett spoke next, and added a new dimension to the issue of police protection from West Pelzer. He pointed out that Pelzer has no taxes, and no town ordinances. He also informed the crowd that even if West Pelzer police respond to Pelzer incidents, they will only have jurisdiction within the town’s corporate limits, and not in adjacent areas, such as the old mill hill across Highway 8.
He pointed out that only approximately forty houses are in town limits, meaning that the proposed police protection will be minimal, and less than effective without annexation. “If something happens at my house, they will come there. But they might not come to an incident across the street because they have no authority there.” He explained the idea behind annexation, and touted the impact it can have on the future of the town.
West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton spoke briefly, confirming much of what Garrett said; and explaining that, without their own specific ordinances, the town of Pelzer would be unable to share in the fines levied by the West Pelzer court. But she encouraged annexation as the quickest single act the town could take, adding, “Since Pelzer has no existing ordinances, this is a perfect opportunity to customize your laws to be exactly what suits your town best.”
Larry Coker then spoke for several minutes, asking why Pelzer, with no ordinances and no taxes, should be different from every other town in the county.
“We need to do this annexation and jump start this town,” Coker said. He pointed out the work done by the Heritage Commission to acquire the mill properties and prepare them to attract investment. “But what investor is going to come into an area with this kind of crime? We need to step forward and do this annexation, and make big changes for our town.”
Lollis told the crowd that a town hall meeting will be held at the Community Building at 12:30 Friday. Concept drawings for plans for the mill properties will be available for viewing.