School safety, drones and York County crime trends were mentioned Tuesday night in Rock Hill during a public question and answer session with three local law enforcement leaders.
Winthrop University's Police Chief Frank Zebedis, Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts and York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant participated in the forum hosted by GPS Conservatives for Action, a political action committee.
One audience member concerned about any future use of drones in York County quizzed Bryant on the constitutionality of unmanned aircraft as a “pre-crime” tool and whether law enforcement checkpoints should be used to check licenses, insurance and find intoxicated drivers.
York County doesn't plan to use drones, Bryant said, but nationwide, the trend may continue.
The drones have a crime-fighting purpose, he said. “They're not up there to watch or film girls in bikinis.”
Police are careful to not violate someone's Fourth Amendment rights protecting them from unlawful search and seizure, Bryant said.
Sometimes, the constitutional guarantee hinders law enforcement's ability to catch criminals, he said.
Road checkpoints, however, are not a violation of constitutional rights and help reduce car accidents and unlawful activity, Bryant and Zebedis said.
Winthrop's police force, along with the sheriff's office and local police agencies, often team up during checkpoints to crack down on drunken driving.
Communication between the agencies is key, the three men said on Tuesday.
Each of their departments, they said, has beefed up its security and presence in light of violent attacks nationwide in places such as Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and the finish line at the Boston Marathon.
Since the Sandy Hook shootings on Dec. 14, 2012, Rock Hill school resource officers are now assigned to two elementary schools each in addition to the middle schools or high schools they serve, Watts said.
“If there's any issue, they respond quicker.”
Similarly, patrol deputies frequently visit rural elementary schools in their districts, Bryant said.
Shortly after Bryant was first elected in 1996 he placed a school resource officer in every high school in rural parts of the county.
There's just not enough money to put a deputy in all 35 county elementary schools, he said.
When asked about “open carry” laws in South Carolina, Bryant and Zebedis both voiced concern.
Training and obtaining a permit are important parts of responsible gun ownership, Bryant said.
An “open carry” gun law could mean people without adequate training would have guns, he said.
On Winthrop's campus, Zebedis would not support students or professors carrying weapons, he said.
In an emergency situation, when police arrive, it's more difficult to know who the “bad guy” is if multiple people have guns, he said.
Winthrop has a “robust” active shooter training class that teaches people without guns how to react in a dangerous situation, Zebedis said.
The university is training future teachers in how to handle an active shooter situation in a school, he said.
Winthrop's College of Education requires its students to take at least one class with Zebedis, which he hopes will make public schools safer.
Although violent crime has decreased in York County, drugs, property crimes and gangs are still a problem, Bryant said.
On his first day on the job as a deputy, Bryant was put on foot patrol along a creek bed near S.C. 5 to look for illegal liquor stills, he said.
Now, his deputies deal with a wide-range of criminal activity from rape cases to domestic violence and probably make more crack-cocaine arrests than public intoxication arrests, Bryant said.
“That's how times have changed.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068