FLORENCE - Inspired by a church shooting, Rev. Larry Williams is taking his Crime Block Drop Box program full time.
The idea behind Williams' program is simple: If a person witnesses criminal activity, he or she can anonymously report it by placing a note inside one of many boxes located in the Pee Dee. Sometimes, Williams said, people want to help stop criminal activity but they don't want to be seen doing it. Police, who have the only keys to the boxes, then retrieve the notes and investigate the information provided.
The boxes have a one-time charge of $225 each. The charge covers installation and maintenance.
Williams has been working on putting boxes around the Pee Dee since 1993.
"Police departments (and) sheriff's departments across the country was having per se problems with (getting) people (to) actually come in or even calling 911 to give information, because they didn't want to be known to turn in a criminal," Williams said. "I just wanted to figure out a way to help our law enforcement but still remain anonymous."
He came up with the idea of crime block drop boxes, and made his way to Diversified Plastics, a Latta company. Diversified Plastics helped Williams develop a design for the box based on the one he saw in a dream. Then, the company made a mold, and soon, the boxes started to appear around the Pee Dee. The first box was installed in 1993 at the Florence County Housing Authority.
Over the next several years, Williams installed boxes in several locations but never committed to working the program full time.
"The program had never been worked full time until this year," Williams said. "Right after the last shooting - with the church shooting - I just made a vow to God to go full-time with this program, and that's what I've been doing ever since December."
On Nov. 5, 2017, a man opened fire on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 parishioners and injuring 20 others. David Patrick Kelley was eventually shot by a civilian as Kelley left the church and was later found dead after a high-speed chase.
Millions of Christians around the United States were horrified by Kelley's attack, including Williams, who serves as pastor of the Tabernacle of God in Dillon.
Williams installed cameras in his church, not to watch while he wasn't there but to see who was coming into the building while he is preaching. Members of his congregation have a signal to prepare to act should such a need arise.
"The problem we (are) having with churches and the problems we (are) having with schools are one and the same," Williams said. "That threat has got to be stopped outside of our schools and churches. It can't happen inside. Once you get an active shooter inside a building, somebody (is) going to die. We've got to come up with innovative ways to stop that threat outside. Until then, it ain't going to happen. We're just waiting on another shooting."
Williams said he has already added several new locations since December. Currently, a box is located in Florence at 292 W. Evans St. Drop boxes can also be found in Kingstree, Darlington, Lake City, Dillon, Marion, Latta, Lake View, Pamplico, Hartsville and Lumberton, North Carolina. Several additional boxes have been placed since 1993, and Williams is working to re-key the boxes and make sure those boxes are checked, too.
Lt. Mike Brandt of the Florence Police Department confirmed Thursday afternoon that the city does have a box on West Evans Street. However, it is not utilized. Instead, the city relies on tips from other sources such as Crime Stoppers.
"I know the crime box won't solve everything, but one life saved is one life saved," Williams said. "To clean up our community, everybody's got to be involved."
The Lake City Housing Authority recently purchased three of the boxes.
Tracie McKenzie, maintenance director of the Lake City Housing Authority, said the boxes offer another way to make residents feel safe.
Williams hopes people will take a look at the program. He said he's been in contact with the U.S. Department of Education, several politicians - including former President Bill Clinton, Gov. Henry McMaster, Mark Sanford and Lindsey Graham - and the Florida Department of Education about the program.
"It's more than our job to just preach about crime or talk about crime," Williams said. "We should be about (preventing) it. It's my civil duty to help clean up our community. Statistics show there's only 5 percent (of people) committing crimes, 95 percent are not, so if that be the case, I don't think 95 percent will allow 5 percent to dictate to us how safe and clean our communities should be."
Williams provided an example of how the boxes help law enforcement to capture criminals.
"We had an armed robbery at a convenience store in Zion, which is in Marion County," Williams said. "Someone positively ID'd the guy and had written his name down in one of the boxes. One of the captains (of the Marion County Sheriff's Department) went over to Dillon, because the guy was from Dillon, and (the criminal) was incarcerated."
The criminal in that case apparently confessed to the crime after 10 minutes of questioning by police officers.
For more information about the Crime Block Drop Box program, visit crimeblockdropbox.com.
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