Sheriff says goal to protect Chatham County unchanged by dissolved SCMPD merger

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - One person who could very well play a major role in the transition from a merged police force is Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher.

While no decision has been made about whether county commissioners will choose an expanded sheriff's office for a separate county police force, Wilcher tells us it would be shortsighted not to be prepared. He also says he's been getting the hints for commissioners for weeks that something big was coming.

John Wilcher has one job: To serve the wishes of the county commission and protect the people of Chatham County, The dissolving of the merger doesn't change that.

Klugh: "If Wilcher's deputies have to police the county, that's a whole different animal isn't it, than the kind of training they have now? They've got to get up to speed."

Wilcher: "They do, but they are still up to speed because they go through the same training that Savannah-Chatham Metro does, Pooler, Garden City, Port Wentworth; they go through the same training. It would only be that you would have to train people in specialized areas like a detective for homicide, rapes, burglaries, robberies, and stuff like that."

Stuff like that would be expensive. Six years ago, when the same two sides were sparring over the merger, the county estimated it would cost about $11 million to go it alone. The county has grown a lot in six years.

"I would say, nowadays and times - and I don't want anybody to hold me to this figure - I would say somewhere between $14 and $15 million to do it," Sheriff Wilcher said.

Wilcher says the city's decision on Friday - which was forced by the county's reluctance to pay - was becoming more obvious with each passing week.

"I've had a county commissioner call me and ask if I could have three deputies on the Westside and three on the Islands if something were to come up and they didn't go back and renegotiate. And I told him yes, we'll make arrangements; I'll pull somebody from somewhere," he said.

Wilcher's Chief Deputy Billy Freeman is the former chief of the Chatham County Police Department before it was dissolved in 2005. If the county wants the sheriff to take the reins of this new department, Freeman has been there and done that.

It's not like the county is starting from scratch. The county already controls Air Patrol, Marine Patrol and they own all the precinct buildings that exist outside the Savannah city limits. They would take ownership of 70 brand new patrol cars purchased by Metro last year.

But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Klugh: "Do you want the job?"

Wilcher: "My thing is again, David, I'm here to serve and protect the people of this community, and if it means me having that, then yes sir. I mean, I'm not going to tell them no, I'm not going to do it."

We asked Sheriff Wilcher if he wants this police function added to his office. His answer? "Does anybody really want it?" He insists he has people in place who can make it happen if that's what the county commissioners want.

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