Savannah police chief defends record low crime rate - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah police chief defends record low crime rate and statistics

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Chief Willie Lovett Chief Willie Lovett
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

In 2012, crime was down in Savannah.

You read that right.

Not only was it down, it was down 12 percent overall and was the lowest crime rate in Savannah's recorded history, according to the new 2012 Crime Stat report released by the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department Tuesday.

Chief Willie Lovett knows it may be hard for some people in the public to believe, but he says several "high-profile" murders overshadowed the work his officers and department have done to continue the trend of cracking down on violent crime.

He says TV news is partly to blame.

"I think the media play a very important part. If all you hear all the time is crime is going up. Whether it is going up or not, that's what they believe," Chief Lovett told WTOC.

From 2011 to 2012, there were three less murders, 11 less rapes and outside steep increases in commercial burglaries and aggravated assaults without a gun, across the board, and city, crime was down.

Every precinct in Savannah saw a drop in overall crime, including a 25 percent decrease in perennial high-risk neighborhoods like Central Precinct, which Lovett credited the return of the "Community Roll Call" increasing police visibility by having shift changes and assignments help in public throughout the precinct.

However, it will take more than just statistics to convince portions of the public who believe crime has gotten more violent, and more regular.

If you judge the crime report by social media reaction, Lovett has his work cut out for him, yet he says he is proud of his officers and the jobs they have done.

Lovett says he is also ready for the conspiracy theories, including the notion the department alters reporting codes and classifications throughout the year for some crimes to influence the final report. Even city officials questioned the "reporting" of crimes within the department as a way to paint a less criminal picture for Savannah.

The Chief isn't having it and says despite what people think, the facts are crime in Savannah is not going up.

"It hasn't gone up in three years, but that's the message they have been receiving and that is what they believe," Lovett said.

The chief says some sectors of the public want more proof, but he scoffed at suggestions that officers, report approvers or the chief himself, played with the statistics. He says there never has been and never will be any "number fudging" or fixing the statistics to get a "desired result" which he said would bring severe legal ramifications for his department from the federal government, who has the right to audit reports on a random basis.

"I would not risk my reputation or the reputation of this agency. It would be double jeopardy for me to fix the numbers. It's just not worth it," Lovett said. "If I were going to change them, it certainly wouldn't be to where they are right now."

25 rapes. 23 murders. A large commercial robbery increase. Chief Lovett says those are not numbers to be proud of.

He says the suggestion is not completely outrageous, given a knack for police department criticisms nationwide when they report crime has gone down. Chief Lovett called it a "fair question."

At SCMPD, each report is given a report code number and must pass through at least six people as a form of checks and balances before final processing, the chief told WTOC, to ensure the reports are accurate and not altered or incorrect in any way.

Chief Lovett says he is now focused on continuing the trend of lowering crime in 2013 with some changes within the department, including staff re-assignments and shifting personnel.

"I'm trying to get the biggest bang for my buck and sometimes you have to move people around to make sure they are suited for and it's necessary. Change is necessary," Lovett said.

Among those changes, with the creation of the new street drug unit which will be 30 officers strong by the fall, one captain has been named commander of the drug unit. The opening, Lovett says, prompted the shifting a reassigning of precinct captains.

He says the moves are not a sign of deeper problems or a directive from Savannah City Hall, where the city manager and, specifically city council,  have been very involved the last few months in offering ideas and suggestions.

"This had nothing to do with anybody other than me making changes I felt were necessary," Lovett said.

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