WTOC Investigates: Chatham County Police Department places job announcement for new force

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - All indications are that the Chatham County Commission Chairman and the County Manager have made a decision about the future of law enforcement in Chatham County.

Thursday afternoon, all of the groundwork for a new Chatham County Police Department was laid. Yet, no official announcement has been made about what the County plans to do for police protection now that the Metro merger is dead.

Through the County Human Resources Department, there was a job announcement for Police officers and an Assistant Police Chief for officers to provide public safety services for the unincorporated areas of Chatham County.

Through an open records request, we also received a response to an inquiry about the new police force from the Human Resources Director. It encourages past Chatham County Police Officers to return to the new force.

That email response says the county is currently looking for Police officers, Corporals Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains and that Assistant Police Chief.

It goes on to promise "officers who return to CCPD will accrue vacation and sick leave based on their original hire dates... not a new hire date." And to sweeten the pot further, the base pay will be at least $2,000 more than the Sheriff can pay a starting county deputy.

We're told the county has also put out the bids for uniforms and other equipment. It is no surprise the county is moving forward with a standing police force. The city of Savannah is just hoping County Commissioners haven't forgotten their obligations to merger promises for 2016 and all of 2017.

"You know we are continuing our effort to transition from the merged city/county police department to stand up the Savannah Police Department," said Rob Hernandez, Savannah City Manager. "The county is moving forward with their plans to stand up law enforcement services for the unincorporated area. The city has formally requested a meeting of the policy committee, consistent with our agreement, to address the repayment issue, the moneys that are owed by the unincorporated area to the city of Savannah for police services."

On Monday of this week, City Manager, Rob Hernandez sent another letter to County Commission questioning why the county has still been silent when it comes to honoring its obligations for past Metro expenses. Those expenses now total more than $6-million. Remember, the Metro Merger is still valid through January of 2018.

The city is demanding a meeting with the county within 28-days or the issue will head to the courts.

For the last three weeks, I have been asking County Commission Chairman, Al Scott to sit down and talk about which way the county is leaning on the choice between a "start from scratch" independent force and an extension of the Sheriff's office. He has not yet been willing to comment.
Yet despite fellow Commissioners getting no notification of the costs involved or a final decision, the County HR department has been told to begin building a new, "independent" police force.

This comes as shocking news to Sheriff John Wilcher, who just last month sent a letter to the county as a reminder of the millions in tax payer savings if they let him create that police force.

Just two years ago, the numbers were crunched on the cost difference between that independent force and letting the Sheriff take the reigns. 
And the difference is a real eye opener.

In 2014, that independent force would cost about $16-million. Probably more today. The Sheriff tells me now he could offer better police protection at a cost of just $11-million. He already has the command staff and much of the necessary equipment. But he also recognizes that $5-million in tax-payer savings would cost the County Commission control over the police force.

In that recent letter to the commission, Wilcher quotes former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell, who said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets credit for the accomplishments." Clearly a jab at anyone who looks at this issue as a power grab.

Right now, the County may be preoccupied with building a force for the future, not worrying about what it's being forced to pay for the past.

County Commissioner, Helen Stone told me earlier Thursday that all options are still on the table when it comes to police protection in the county, "as far as she knows".

Lo and behold late Thursday night Chatham County Manager Lee Smith announced that he will hold a press conference Friday morning to discuss the County's choice for police protection.

From what we're seeing on the Chatham County Employment Opportunity web page, the process of building a new police force has already begun.

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