New drug unit begins as Savannah leaders question police budget - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Chief begins drug unit as city council questions budget requests

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Is there tension mounting at Savannah City Hall over the crime issue and the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department?

If Thursday's city council workshop was any indication, it sounds that way. Chief Willie Lovett, Alderman Van Johnson and the acting city manager, Stephanie Cutter, became very vocal on how to fight crime, and the resources needed to have an impact on it's reduction.

Last month, WTOC reported Chief Lovett was requesting an additional 65 officers in his budget request to form a new drug unit devoted to street level drug sales as well as a juvenile crime unit. 

It remains to be seen if he will get what he wants, but once again, at the request of council, the chief presented more information and statistics to support his request.

Mayor Edna Jackson said council has not made any decisions on the budget yet, but the chief didn't seem to take the comments of some council members, and the acting city manager, lightly.

"We have to monitor progress. We have to monitor impact," Cutter told city council.

The comment was directed at all city department heads, but only the Chief of Police was standing in front of them.

He's requested more than a million dollars in additions and improvements for the police department, including the hiring of new officers.

Statistics presented by the City of Savannah show compared to several other cities, including Virginia Beach, VA, Charleston, SC and Myrtle Beach, SC, Savannah has less officer per 1,000 residents, with three officers per 1,000.

If you add in a reported 65,000 daily tourists in Savannah, the number drops to two officers per 1,000 residents/tourists.

Despite statistics showing an overall decrease in violent crime, high profile murders, shootings and violent incidents have put the Chief in the hot seat to find an instant remedy. He told council he needs the officers to make even more of an impact.

Not everyone agreed.

"We cannot arrest our way out of this issue," Mayor ProTem Van Johnson told WTOC. "We need to give the chief what he needs to fight crime but the reality is he has over 600 officers. I am just advocating for a much smarter approach to our policing. I want to make sure we use every available resource to fight crime in this community."

"Chief Lovett is doing an excellent job along with his officers," Mayor Edna Jackson told WTOC. "What we are asking, in order for us to justify giving him the additional money out of the budget, so we can say to the residents, look, this is what you are asking for, and this is what our police department will be doing."

Alderman Tony Thomas told WTOC he disagrees with Johnson, and said council needs to stick with policy making and let the Chief of Police handle fighting crime.

The city is aiming to have a 2013 budget ready to be voted on by middle of December.

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