SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - People want answers from those running for city and county leader positions. What is the solution to Savannah's growing crime problem?
As we approach the elections with just a little over a week away, many folks are looking to city council to solve the problem.
In District 4, Incumbent Mary Ellen Sprague is being challenged by Julian Miller, Savannah-Chatham Metro's former spokesperson. District 4 is the heart of midtown and the home to many of Savannah's families. Both candidates say their overwhelming priority is, in fact, crime.
WTOC sat down with both candidates to figure out how they will address this growing concern.
Both Sprague and Miller bring to the table a unique perspective on the city and how it deals with crime. Sprague, having been on council since 2008, has seen the transition and improvements made recently. Julian Miller, having most recently been the spokesperson for the police department has had to answer the tough questions and he has seen the change from the inside. Vacancies in the department is a problem many are aware of, so we asked them both, "Do we need to make some sacrifices to fix that problem?"
"I think the money is already there, I just think we need to deploy it better with the new police chief. He is figuring out ways to get more police officers, and I believe that money will be well spent. I think we are properly funding the police department as is. If he needs more, I am sure he will ask and we will give it to him," said Incumbent, Marry Ellen Sprague.
"We have a $347,000,000 budget, and a $32,000,000 reserve. Not only that, but the revenue is supposed to be $5,000,000 over what is budgeted. We do not need to sacrifice any services. You start with police protection. The number one responsibility of any government is to protect its people, and we are not doing that. We have not staffed a department that can do that," said Miller, District 4 candidate.
Both candidates agree that we need to make officer salaries more competitive.
Families. It's the word many people think of when they talk about the 4th District. So for the candidates vying to sit on council and represent those families, their first priority is keeping everyone safe.
"Public safety is goal number one. Over 50 percent of the city's budget goes toward safety so it is something that is very important," said Spraque.
"Make us safe, make us feel safe and that is important. That perception is there and right now many think they are not safe. We have to address that and it should have been addressed a long time ago," said Miller.
Chief Jack Lumpkin has said a main cause of crime is the gangs or groups in the city, so how do we address it?
"We have to get in and get people off the streets. A lot of them have been identified we just have not been able to get them. That is in part because of the experience of the department. We have to put in the social programs that we have," said Miller.
"Mentoring for young boys that need it, after school activities, boy scouts, activities that are positive. Showing them the opportunity that is out there in terms of education will make a big difference. Focusing on that age group will have the longest impact," said Spraque.
Another issue that attracts crime is blight and run down properties that seem to invite problems. It's an issue Sprague says the city is dealing with constantly.
"To address that we have tried to get the banks involved to take care of the blighted properties. If the banks are not involved, or will not get involved, then the city will step in and start mowing and taking care of the properties themselves," said Spraque.
"Blight came up at every single meeting because it leads to crime, it leads to the deterioration of the neighborhood. The city can take issue, they can force the owners to fix them up or tear them down. In most cases, an empty field is better than what we have there now," said Miller.
And asked why folks should vote for them.
"The last four year have been year of incredible change and I think all for the positive. This is the best group of people that I have ever worked with," said Spraque.
"I think my determination to keep things from lingering, and floundering, and not getting done," said Miller.