2003 Savannah police merger now called into question - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

2003 Savannah police merger now called into question

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The merger between the Chatham County Police Department and the Savannah Police Department became official on Oct. 16, 2003. Savannah City Aldermen, and then mayor, Floyd Adams, plus the Chatham County Commissioners signed an agreement, essentially creating the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department.

District 7 County Commissioner Dean Kicklighter didn't like it then and still has issues with it now. He believes the city and the county rushed in to the deal.

The agreement gave the new police department jurisdiction over Savannah and area's of unincorporated Chatham County. But Commissioner Kicklighter said it's now been brought to his attention that part of the contract may not be legal.

"I want to know whether or not the police officers have the authority to actually patrol the unincorporated areas of Chatham County," Kicklighter said." Right now, it's my understanding the only legal way they could patrol those areas would be if the Chatham County Sheriff actually swore the officers in. So, it's very possible this merger is not operating under the guidelines of the law."

Kicklighter would not say who brought the legal issues to his attention. He was also the only commissioner to vote against the merger back in 2003.

WTOC obtained a copy of the agreement that merged the two police departments together. So, can police officers arrest criminals in unincorporated Chatham County? According to the contract, the answer is yes. The agreement reads "all Savannah Police Officers and new recruits of the Metro Police Department will be sworn in by the County as County Police Officers and then assigned to Metro Police. These officers will have the same county-wide powers and authority as held and retained by officers of the Chatham County Police Department on the date of execution of the Agreement.Metro Police Department officers will have the authority to enforce city and county ordinances."

Right now, Chatham County Attorney Jonathan Hart is also going over the contract and details of the merger.

"We'll leave that up to the attorney's, as of consequences," said Commissioner Kicklighter. "If illegal, there will definitely have to be a restructuring, or a move, or a split of some sort. Because it's my understanding the sheriff is not prepared to swear in these officers."

County Attorney Jonathan Hart did not comment Friday on the matter.

According to Savannah City Hall, there was a five year grace period where city and county leaders could amend the agreement or return to two separate police departments. No changes were ever made. That five year window ended in 2010.

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