COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - When college students from the University of South Carolina, Allen University, and Benedict College come back Columbia for the fall semester, local law enforcement gets into a familiar rhythm.
They typically are on high alert for underage drinking, work with nearby colleges, stay out late near local bars, and try to educate new students on local laws.
But because of COVID-19, nothing about the 2020 school year is typical.
"For obvious reasons, historically it's much different than we have present, Sgt. Timothy Baire said.
Baire leads a group of officers who patrol the Five Points neighborhood and the surrounding area in Columbia on busy nights.
Five Points is known for attracting college students and is close to neighborhoods where some students live off-campus.
However the past few weeks, it's been quieter than Baire is used to seeing.
He largely attributes the change in pace to caution concerning the coronavirus and Gov. McMaster's "last call" executive order that bans alcohol sales at restaurants after 11 P.M.
“That itself is a huge game-changer for us,” Baire said about the executive order. “It opens up for us this unknown of how are we as law enforcement...what are we going to deal with? We are used to being at Five Points until 2 a.m. because that’s when the bars are open,” Baire said.
The biggest unknown for Baire and his fellow officers s, where are the students going once they leave the bars?
To account for the change in people’s partying patterns, the Columbia Police Department has made three major changes to their Thursday through Saturday night patrols.
The first change is adding more detail to what they document when they respond to noise and party complaints in Columbia neighborhoods.
“We are documenting each and every house party that we respond to and each and every noise complaint that could turn into a large party. A crime trend that we didn’t keep track before,” Baire explained.
Baire said his team now takes relevant photographs when they are called to a place for a noise complaint, track if COVID-19 safety guidelines are being followed, note if the occupants are owners or renters, and if the people living there are attending college they take notice of any student group ties.
By using a more detailed and uniform system of note-taking, CPD hopes to know if anyone’s house is causing constant issues and can make sure landlords know if their residents are bothering neighbors.
This is coming as Columbia City Council is reviewing an ordinance aimed at cutting down on house parties.
The second new measure is working even closer with UofSC's law enforcement, which includes UofSC officers riding with CPD on busy nights.
And lastly, CPD now has a beefed-up “party patrol,” which is a group of officers who will be responding to any noise or party complaints in areas surrounding UofSC’s campus.
All together, Baire said these changes have not been easy for his fellow officers.
But even some of his "old dogs" can learn new tricks.
“It’s a learning curve for everybody and we are going to continue to serve the community in the best way possible,” he said.