Chatham County manager weighs in on recent SCMPD study

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - The future of policing in Savannah and unincorporated Chatham County hinge on cooperation between two elected bodies.

Just weeks ago, the Chatham County Commission and Savannah City Council got feedback from a consulting agency with hundreds of pages of recommendations for the Savannah-Chatham County Metro Police Department.

Chatham County Manager Lee Smith says this very detailed, very complicated topic boils down to how willing both boards are when it comes to tackling crime and offering support to the officers spearheading that effort.

"I know my board believes that, and I know City Council believes that. But when you get into the weeds of the study, those kinds of things get overshadowed. And I think we have to keep reminding ourselves what are we trying to accomplish," said Smith.

The county manager pointed out again as he did when the study was first revealed, that he believes it will be hard for elected officials not to get caught up in the details of the study when trying to determine the level of service they want for the unincorporated county.

"For the county commissioners, I think their biggest struggle will be if we want more than we're receiving right now, because we generally know what our costs are right now. If we want more, how much more," said Smith.

Smith says officers meant to patrol the county get pulled into the city to cover violent crime more often than city patrols into the county, adding he would like to see more detailed information about how often that happens.

"Right now, we've got some baseline data, and that's where I think we've got to tweak that formula. Because if we've got people still pulled in, then you're not getting that percentage of service," said Smith.

Following the latest police policy meeting, Savannah City Manager Rob Hernandez said Savannah's taxpayers can no longer subsidize 911 services county-wide. Smith says the alternative might not be too popular with taxpayers.

"You have an option of making it M&O, that means you bill everyone in this county, from Tybee to Pooler to Port Wentworth. Everybody pays," said Smith.

Smith says equalizing 911 fees for service would be easier, but a tough sell because of the perception of a raised millage rate.

More discussion and decision making is ahead. The City of Savannah and Chatham County are not obligated to use all the recommendations of the Berkshire study.

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