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Sumter, S.C. cracks down on crime to show commitment.

Instead of just talking about fighting the war on crime and drugs, the city of Sumter, S.C. did something about it.

Local police teamed up with state and national guardsmen for a five-day sweep of Sumter's city streets last December in an effort to show that the city was serious about fighting crime. "Operation Crackdown," as the sweep was called, was among first of its kind in the nation, according to organizers.

The operation led to 83 arrests, most of which were drug-related.

While Sumter City Manager Talmadge Tobias noted that crime in Sumter "isn't worse than any other city," he stated that the local government still is very concerned with dealing with the drug problem.

"Basically, we wanted to take the street comers back for the people," said Tobias. "And who better to assist our communities than our own citizen-soldiers?"

The idea to use existing manpower to further police the city came from Sumter Chief of Police Harold Johnson.

"We were in a staff meeting discussing the problems of crack and cocaine use when someone jokingly suggested we bring in the National Guard to deal with it," recalled Johnson. "So, we contacted the National Guard and brought them in after four months of planning."

During that four months, more than 20 law-enforcement agencies became involved in the operation including the South Carolina Alcohol and Beverage Commission, the Governor's Retaliation Against Illegal Drugs (RAID) Team, and the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). The Sumter City Police Department beefed-up its manpower from 10 to 30 units, while the National Guard supplied 81 people and the State Guard supplied 38 people for the cause.

Operation Crackdown was then slated for the weekend of December 4-6 while the Governor's RAID Team went undercover for an intensive drug investigation in Sumter for two days prior to the operation. The city of Sumter then notified the public of its intentions for the weekend so that citizens would not be alarmed when they saw military vehicles patrolling the streets.

"We planned to have a secret phase and a public phase," said Johnson, explaining why the public wasn't notified about the RAID Team's investigation. "We knew if we just sent the National Guard out and didn't do the undercover part, people would just go in their homes and nothing would happen. We wouldn't have been able to make the arrests we did if we made the whole operation public."

Indeed, more than 60 of the 83 arrests made came during the RAID Team's investigation. Johnson stated that approximately 75 percent of the arrests were drug-related.

With two Guardsmen teaming up with one police officer for 40 hours of continuous policing from Friday evening to Sunday morning Operation Crackdown was a great success, Johnson said. The streets were clean and public reaction was favorable to the operation, so much so that a citizen's march in support of law enforcement was actually conducted while the sweep was still in process.

Costs for the Crackdown were in respect to the benefits reaped, said Tobias. All services provided by the National and State Guard were done on a volunteer basis, thus giving the city over 4,760 man-hours of service at no cost. The city of Sumter shelled out $9,300 in overtime pay to its police officers, but, with the value of the Guard units placed at $47,600, Sumter ended up receiving $38,300 worth of services at no cost.

"With just a little extra overtime pay and at a minimum of cost, we were able to triple the amount of law enforcement officers on the streets," said Tobias proudly.

Operation Crackdown also presented a new twist for the National Guard. With the military being downsized in many areas, certain Guard units have been threatened with de-activation. Such hands-on community involvement as Operation Crackdown may define the future of the National Guard. The need to combat the growing drug problem with more law enforcement officials seems to form a natural bond between local communities and the Guard.

"A program like this using our citizen-soldiers would give the National Guard another reason to exist," said Tobias.

"It was such a cooperative effort by everyone that made the weekend so successful," added Tobias. "The groundwork has been laid for other cities to duplicate the operation."

Johnson said that Sumter itself plans to repeat the operation perhaps three to four times per year, although he said the next time it is performed, it will be a surprise to the public. The Chief of Police pointed to the success of the program by citing statistics showing calls for police service in January through March after Operation Crackdown were down 30 percent compared to the same time period last year.
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Title Annotation:Sumter, South Carolina
Author:Neff, Andy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 26, 1993
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