Chief Willie Lovett tackles vacancies and new facilities

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City Council met with Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Chief Willie Lovett to talk about a few topics Thursday morning, including staffing.

Besides the obvious recent crime, the chief addressed recent vacancies in his department. Is it affecting the police department's ability to keep crime off the streets?

Lovett says no.

Lovett told WTOC there are between 68 and 70 vacancies in the department, but most are considered interim positions, as classified by human resources. In reality, he says the department has 25 openings for officers on the street.

Lovett says the problem they have hiring new officers has been finding quality recruits. Many don't pass a background check. However, he expects to fill up the vacancies over the next several months as more than 40 new academy graduates will be eligible for service.

When asked by Mayor Otis Johnson if the vacancies are affecting the departments ability to fight crime and keep communities safe, he said, not yet.

"At some point, if it does, I will let them know. Right now, all the beats are filled and extra units are out there, so it's not a concern," Lovett told WTOC.

Chief Lovett also stressed, even though there has been a lot of violent crime publicized in recent weeks, 2011 crime statistics still rank it as the second best year the department has had in the last 10 years.

Savannah-Chatham Metro Police are dealing with more than just crime. They have a headquarters they want fixed, and now, the city is looking at moving not only the headquarters but it's downtown precinct and finding a new home for the long awaited central precinct.

City Council met behind closed doors with Lovett Thursday afternoon to discuss real estate options. It appears the planned Waters Avenue and 37th Street central precinct will not happen after all. as WTOC first reported last week.

Four years ago,  the plan was for a new central precinct to open in a shopping plaza property the city had purchased, but city spokesman Bret Bell told WTOC officials felt the move would disrupt business and the city is actually making money by leasing the property.

Meanwhile, renovations have begun on the main police headquarters, which has a bad roof. The city may be looking for a new building for headquarters and also relocating the downtown precinct.

With the future of those three precincts up in the air, Lovett says he's not so sure the central precinct plan was one he would have pushed for if he was chief four years ago.

"My understanding and having the knowledge I have right now, I would not have ventured into that area making it a precinct with all the other problems associated with it," Lovett said.

The city will still move forward with repairs and renovations for the headquarters on Habersham and Oglethorope, which could potentially become home to the downtown precinct if the city decides to relocate headquarters to a new location.

Council members, nor the Chief, would comment on any locations discussed in executive session.

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