S.C. Law Enforcement Division chief Mark Keel spoke at a public appearance Monday about numerous crime issues, except for South Carolina’s most notorious recent cases — the unsolved murders of Paul Murdaugh and his mother, Maggie Murdaugh.
“I can’t talk about that,” Keel said during a 23-minute talk to the Columbia Rotary Club. He took part in a question-and-answer session following prepared remarks.
His response was not unexpected; his practice is not to discuss ongoing investigations in progress.
The June 7 murders involving the prominent South Carolina family have captivated the country along with subsequent events and financial improprieties related to the Murdaughs. Alex Murdaugh has been at the center of much of the scandal, but has not been charged with any crimes related to the murders.
Instead, Keel provided his audience with crime-fighting pointers as the state sees an increase in violent crime.
“These are not going to be anything you haven’t heard of before, but it seems like we all forget them,” Keel said.
He ticked off a list of best practices: lock home doors, use deadbolt locks, don’t hide a key outside and keep buses and shrubs around the home trimmed.
“The most important one ... is to lock your vehicles and remove your valuables — especially guns,” said Keel. “We’re seeing an extraordinary amount of guns being stole from vehicles. ... People always ask: ‘Where do they get their guns?’ They get them from us.
“Those same guns that you use for your protection, end up being used in violent crime,” Keel said.
Murders and aggravated assaults are up around the state, Keel said, due to gangs, drugs and increased gun usage.
“We’ve seen murders increase in our state 51% over the last five years,” Keel said.
Policing is an increasingly dangerous profession, and it’s getting hard to recruit good officers, Keel said.
“Nearly every person that a police officer comes into contact with today is likely to be armed,” Keel said. “Every encounter has the potential to become violent.”
Communication can improve safety
The most important step people can take for overall safety has to do with communication, Keel said.
“I’m a strong advocate of getting to know each other, understanding each other and being in a place of respected partnership with everyone we meet,” Keel said. “We’re a society of communities, but often we live our lives knowing only our immediate families and those who we work with.”
Get to know the people on your block and your children’s friends, Keel advised. “We’ve got to get back to looking out for our neighbors. ... Criminals don’t like neighborhoods where people look out for each other.”
On a personal level, Keel said, he prefers not to deal with people in text messages or emails, but to talk on phone or face-to-face.
“To me, communication to me is conversation — not emailing or text messaging,” Keel said. “I tell every single sheriff or chief or prosecutor in this state the same thing: if you need something from me, don’t be emailing me or text messaging.
“I understand that emails and text messages have their place, but we have to more successfully talk to each other,” Keel said. “But quite frankly (they) get used too much now so we don’t have to talk to each other.”
Personal connections and a foundation of trust are vital before an incident happens, Keel said.
“If something goes wrong, you already have respect and credibility and you understand each other,” he said. “It’s all about respect and trust and partnership.”