Future of 4th of July Celebration

If future 4th of July Celebrations are to be held it will be important to get the Bamberg County Sheriff’s Office or South Carolina Highway Patrol involved for traffic control and the Denmark Police Department involved early. But the City of Bamberg should continue with its annual 4th of July Celebration is the recommendation of the Bamberg Police Commission after an August 12 meeting. Commission members agreed they still have a year to make a final decision on the future of the celebration.

An incident after this year’s event that is thought to have involved youth from Bamberg and Denmark and was described as “hairy” was the catalysis that raised the question as to the future of the event. The incident that was stated to involve a crowd of 200 came at the end of this year’s event when two City of Bamberg Police Officers responded to a fight between two females and found themselves surrounded. To bring the situation under control officers had to taser the two females. No one was reportedly arrested after the incident.

The parent of one tasered teenager filed a complaint alleging police officers used excessive force. Police Chief George Morris said that Bamberg Police officers followed procedure. Commission member Janeth Walker asked what method was used to break up the fight prior to the taser being used? Chief Morris said the girls would not stop fighting until the taser was used. “Are we going to stop having the fourth of July Celebration,” Council member Nancy Foster asked. Foster went on to say that she understood officers “feared for their lives.”

Bamberg Mayor Alton McCollum also seemed to question the viability of continuing the event with the City’s coffers dwindling financially. “What value is it to the town?” Mayor McCollum asked. “We’re the one paying the money. Is it still serving the purpose?”

Chief Morris noted that ending the 4th of July Celebration that he said attracted a crowd of 3,000 people in and around the Ness Sports Complex would be “the easy thing to do” and stop and not have it. “We don’t want to stop a good thing,” noting this was the first year the celebration has been marred by this type of incident.

Morris said a contributing factor to the problem of officers responding to the scene of the incident was that officers had to be taken off crowd control and had a problem getting to the scene of the fight. He noted that another factor contributing to the manpower shortage was the department had been asked to cut back on overtime so officers “could not handle all the kids.”

Police Commissioner Bo Griffin said “we’re not asking you to put officers in harm’s way” by cutting back in overtime; Griffin went on to praise the officers for the way they kept their composure during a tense situation.

Also during the meeting:

Chief Morris said the police department is handling the staffing shortage by using staff and part-time help. “We’re covering it the best we can with the resources we got.”

In a discussion of “accident reporting procedures” Chief Morris said that information is free to the media and public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) once it is complete. “As a commission ya’ll have a right,” Morris said admonishing commission members that they “don’t get too involved.”

Commission member Nancy Foster noted: “I want to know what the police are doing; I’m interested in the incident report?” Chief Morris noted that there is a difference between an incident report and accident report: “They’re working; it would be kind of hard to get information on everything.” Morris went on to say a lot of people don’t know what police do in a small town. “Officers stay pretty busy.”

Griffin said his response when questioned is: “Contact the Chief.”