CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The numbers don’t lie, scenes filled with blue lights are all too common on King Street. The reported crimes vary in severity from underage drinking to sexual assaults, stabbings, and even shootings.
Business owners and operators say they are hitting a breaking point. Edward, who asked to go by just his first name, manages a popular nightclub right off King Street.
“Last Saturday, there was a shooting in the Visitors Center Parking Garage,” he recalled. “They heard the gunshots and were scared, crying, some of the girls; there is no security there and some of our staff feels like that parking garage is a death trap.”
Edward says he hires private security for several reasons, but he needs their help just to keep patrons safe.
“Oh, we would have plenty of issues if we didn’t have the security that we have,” he said.
Since the beginning of the year, just on the 500 block of King Street, there have been over 600 calls for service; 75 of those were suspicious person calls. We brought those numbers to the police.
Lieutenant James Byrne is the commander of the troop that patrols the Central Business District, an area that includes King Street. He said they “have issues that require our full attention.”
He says they are seeing rising crime trends across the city as the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. “The central business district being a more active part of the city, also sees some of those changes.”
To fight those numbers, Lt. Byrne says extra patrols are being put in place, even as the department struggles to fill jobs.
“Our folks have, with no complaint, shifted their schedules, shifted their personal lives. And again, I tip my hat to the officers that are doing that because it is a huge ask of us as commanders,” he said.
Lt. Byrne said a lot of his focus is cracking down on fake IDs and underage drinking. But we asked about some of the recent more serious reports of sexual assaults, weapons, stabbings, and even shootings that have occurred on the peninsula.
“There is no denying that those acts are being committed. We are having a problem with kind of that “street party” vibe. One of the things that we are seeing, and we are hearing, is that it’s feeling more like Myrtle Beach or it’s feeling more like Mardi Gras. That’s not Charleston, that’s not what we want Charleston to be.”
Unfortunately, though, businesses say that is what this part of King Street has become. On Sunday morning, a shooting on King and Reid Streets was yet another scare for people in the area. And with police operating short-handed, restaurants and bars say their view of the city is changing.
Jay Pressley manages a popular restaurant on King Street, and he says scenes like this are what he sees out of the window every day.
“We do have a window front where I work, so we see a lot of fights, people just crowding the street—even crossing when traffic becomes unsafe.”
Pressley says he won’t even send his employees home for the day without a buddy to walk to their car with. And he is left to wonder, when will the police find a long-term fix.
“What are they going to do to help us feel safe? I get the police can only do so much, but I would like to hear something from the city.”
Lt. Byrne says at the end of the day, everyone on King Street is working towards the same goal:
“Let’s face it, King Street had a rough year. King Street had a very rough year, and those who remain – because a lot of business owners have closed – those who remain want to make sure they protect their interests, and more so, that they protect their customers.”