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IN CAPITAL OF SOUTH CAROLINA, POLICE NOW LIVE WHERE THEY ONCE FOUGHT CRIME

Some Columbia, S.C., police officers live in the houses they once raided.

Take Officer Odell Jones, for example. He bought a 2,000-square-foot, one-story brick house with three bedrooms, dining room, living room, den and two full baths for $43,000 plus a $37,000 renovation loan -- both at a 4 percent interest rate.

The house used to be rented by a drug dealer. But then Jones took advantage of the Police Homeowners Loan Program, which offers Columbia police officers low-interest loans to purchase city housing.

Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, has 118,000 residents, 15 of them recently relocated police officers who took advantage of the city program.

In Columbia -- as in Buffalo -- high-crime areas straddle stable neighborhoods. Older homes on stately streets -- long vacated by their owners -- have fallen into disrepair. Mostly elderly residents still clinging to their neighborhoods live in fear because of the crime rate.

One or two abandoned houses, used for criminal activity, can lead to the decline of an entire neighborhood, a point noted by Chief Charles P. Austin.

"Several homes were dilapidated and vacant," Austin said. "We wanted to address crime and quality-of-life issues in the neighborhoods."

So far, it appears to be working, if statistics can be a gauge.

"We are experiencing about a 16.25 (percent) crime reduction in the neighborhoods where the officers live," Austin said. "It's good to see a reduction in the statistics. Around here one murder is considered to be a crime wave."

Sgt. Michael J. Hendrix, 31, remembered weighing the crime element when deciding whether to take advantage of the low-interest home loan.

"Hey, I'm not moving into a neighborhood where there's a shooting every day," he recalled thinking.

Hendrix was paying $500 a month rent for his apartment and trying to save enough cash to buy a house for his wife, Debbie, and their young daughter, Stephanie.

"We sat down and thought about it," he said. "No money down, 4 percent loan over 20 years. This is too good to be true."

Hendrix investigated the area and found reports of vandalism, break-ins. "Just like any other neighborhood," he explained during a recent phone interview. "And as far as drugs are concerned, I can go anywhere in the U.S. and get drugs."

For $66,000, including a $20,000 renovation loan, the Hendrix family -- including recent addition Michael James -- bought a house in northwest Columbia.

The home is about 50 years old, typical for the neighborhood. Hendrix said.

"My wife and I could have moved in the day we closed on it," Hendrix said. "The house was not in bad shape. It needed electrical work, a bathroom floor. The house needed to be brought up to code. I tore the back porch down."

Hendrix figures he'd still be in his apartment if it were not for the home incentive plan.

"We'd probably still be saving," he said. "With my marked police car out in driveway, people know I live here. I'm in and out, stop by to eat lunch. Just to make them feel at ease."

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