Downtown residents voice concerns to new SCMPD chief - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Downtown residents voice concerns to new SCMPD chief

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Three words came up over and over at the Downtown Neighborhood Association's Wednesday night meeting with Interim Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Chief Juliette Tolbert -- accessibility, communication and transparency.

That's what downtown residents say they want from the police department in the wake of Chief Willie Lovett's sudden retirement.

Nearly 200 people came to the meet-and-greet with Tolbert and her command staff at the Coastal Georgia Center.

"It has been a rough few weeks," Downtown Neighborhood Watch Captain Staci Donegan said. "But I'll tell you, there's nothing but better days ahead."

These Savannahians say they want more real-time information on crime, so they can know how to keep themselves safe. And, they want to see more officers walking their beats, getting to know the people who live there.

In an interview after the meeting, Tolbert said those suggestions will become her officers' orders.

"I'll be talking with the entire department in respect to the demands upon them, to get out of the vehicles, to interact more with residents, to just become more accessible to them," she said.

It's been a month of scandal for the department, culminating with Lovett's retirement amid allegations of sexual harassment.

"I think Savannah, in spite of the black eyes we've gotten recently, I think we're on the right track," said downtown resident and tour guide, Phillip Sellers. "I really do."

And the city has quietly made a turn on that track. With little fanfare, four women have taken over the city's top spots -- Mayor Edna Jackson, City Manager Stephanie Cutter, District Attorney Meg Heap and now, Interim Chief Juliette Tolbert.

After the meeting, downtown resident Mariela Nemanic posed a question to a WTOC reporter, asking, "How will that change the way things are done in Savannah and in Chatham County?"

One change downtown residents are sad to see is the retirement of Major Mike Wilkins.

Wilkins served as downtown precinct commander for several years and had strong support from the Downtown Neighborhood Association. He'll start a new job Monday, heading up the new investigations and security program at Gulfstream Aerospace.

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