After nearly four decades of public service, Chatham County Police Chief Tom Sprague is calling it quits. In 1994, Sprague promised the county five years, and he's given them seven. He says now it's somebody else's turn.
"Everyone has a time and it's time for me," he said.
Chief Sprague started his career as a Marine before working for Border Patrol, Customs, and the DEA. He came out of retirement in the early '90s to get the Savannah Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team off the ground, and became the county's police chief in 1994.
"Thirty-nine years is a long time to be carrying a weapon and a badge and the authority it bears," he noted.
In his past seven years as chief, Sprague feels installing an Internal Affairs unit, outfitting the department with modern equipment, and adding state-of-the-art forensic capabilities have been his biggest contributions to Chatham County. But feels the department now needs to head in a new direction.
Chief Sprague set his last day on the job for June 30, but if the proposed merger between the county and Savannah police departments goes through, he'll stay on as long as he's needed.
"I think the merger is good for the people of this county, the city of Savannah, and the unincorporated area," Sprague said. "I think it's good for fighting crime. It gives us a much more effective crime fighting machine."
Chief Sprague proposed the merger two years ago and is hoping that the county and city authorities will help make it happen. If the merger goes through, he hopes Savannah Police Chief Dan Flynn would run the Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Police Department.
He says he'd like to do some free consulting work for local law enforcement agencies and maybe even read a few detective novels.
The search for a new chief of police will begin immediately. Chatham County officials plan to list the job in police trade magazines, expecting applicants from all over the southeast. County Manager Russ Abolt says it should take about six months to find someone qualified to fill Chief Sprague's shoes.
"Tom Sprague came forward and has done an outstanding job as chief of police," Abolt told us. "He's the type of individual who's not about building a resume. He's a man that's very modest who truly has an affection and a love for this community."
Abolt says Chief Sprague had been putting his retirement off in hopes of a smooth transition should a merger between Chatham County and Savannah go through.