SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department reports fewer violent crimes so far in 2017 than during the same time period in 2016.
"It's significant," said Sgt. Robert Santoro with SCMPD's Homicide Unit. "You know, the last couple of years have taken a really big toll on everybody in my unit, and so it's significant to see that the violence goes down. Also, it's significant within the community to have fewer people affected and touched by that violence."
Cody Collins has lived in Savannah for five years, and feels like he's seen crime increase.
"I feel like it's kind of went up a little bit over the past few years," Collins said. "It's not really a good thing. I would like to see it go back down, but I feel like it definitely has increased a little bit."
Heather Dearman lived in Savannah from 2012 to 2016 and said she watched crime climb over those four years.
"Between the time that I moved here my freshman year in college and my senior year in college, I think it almost went up," Dearman said. "I heard more stories of incidents that happened when people were out at night or people's houses were getting robbed."
Overall, violent crimes decreased from 953 in 2016 to 882 in 2017, with officers responding to fewer homicides, street and residential robberies.
"A lot of has to do with just the work that our unit and the police department, in general, has done over the last several years," Sgt. Santoro said. "We've had a big effort on behalf of the department to target the violent crime and specific individuals that are doing the most violence, so I think that plays a part, as well as, just the community. There's been a big outreach. Since 2015 and 2016 were so deadly, there's been a lot of community outreach. Even now talking to people, it's hard to find folks in Savannah who haven't been touched by that violence over the last couple of years, so it's kind of hit home with a lot of people. More people are starting to reach out to us a little bit more, be a little bit more willing to talk to us about what's going on."
Sgt. Santoro said programs within the department and within the community are helping to curb violent crimes.
"First and foremost, the investigators that work in my office, have to give them a lot of credit for the long hours and the lengthy investigations that they've launched and being able to make good, prosecutable cases for the DA's office. Of course, everybody knows about the End Gun Violence initiative and the targeting of groups and the most violent offenders. So we've had certain things within those two groups - our division in criminal investigations as well through EGV - that, I think, has really had a big impact on the crime rate. I don't want to leave patrol out either. The guys on patrol we've had them out there, and they've been doing a lot of good work for us as well pushing information down from investigations to the street and vice versa. The guys on the street pushing information up to us."
Mayor DeLoach agreed changes within the department seem to be working.
"That's what it's all about, and that's what the chief's all about," DeLoach said. "That's the same program he had in Clarke County before he came here was community based policing and intelligence gathering. He had both of those going on in Clarke County, so I think we'll see the same results here. Once you start moving the ball and you see it moving down, then you realize, well, yep. It's working like I hoped it would or what I felt it would after talking with the chief and talking with different folks in the police department, getting their ideas of what was important and what they needed to get before they were able to get things done.And as we added those things on, things are moving in the right direction. We got a good chief, somebody giving us some good direction, and if we keep pushing with him, we're going to improve the situation."
He also said initiatives like End Gun Violence and the youth summer employment program are having positive impacts.
"I think everybody feels relieved that we are moving in the right direction, and happy that we are too, not only for ourselves, but I mean, for the citizens too; everyone," DeLoach said.
DeLoach said Metro police saw a 29 percent reduction in property crimes and a 24 percent reduction in violent crimes committed by youth this past summer, and hopes to expand the program to more businesses next summer.
Aggravated assaults both with and without guns are up this year.
Metro reported 212 aggravated assaults with guns in 2016 and 229 in 2017. Sgt. Santoro said an aggravated assault with a gun doesn't necessarily mean it's a shooting with injuries, but things like pointing a gun at someone or shooting at a home with people inside could also be classified that way.
Sgt. Santoro said Georgia lawmakers changed state law in 2014 to classify strangulation as felony aggravated instead of a misdemeanor. While he said that's a good thing, it shows up as an increase in aggravated assaults without guns.
"A lot of aggravated assaults without guns now we see see are domestic strangulations and things like that that weren't previously classified as felony aggravated assaults prior to July of 2014," he said.
He hopes the programs working to reduce homicides will reduce those as well.
"I think it's the same concept," he said. "You basically have, generally speaking, a finite number of people doing a significant portion of the violent crime, especially when you're talking about gun crime, so the biggest things are targeting those individuals and the groups around them to combat the violence that that they attribute. That's the biggest thing. We're continuing to, basically, push forward the efforts that we've started and to continue with those because they seem to have been working, at least as far as the homicide numbers go. I think it's going to translate to the aggravated assaults as well."
Just because the numbers are down, Sgt. Santoro said that doesn't mean the community should stop its programs.
"We're working hard for you, and we need to continue to ask for your help," he said. "Just because numbers are down doesn't mean that now we don't have to continue the effort, right? There was a lot of talk about when the numbers were up and high that everybody kind of wanted to contribute, and it seems like when things go back to normal or normal-ish, people are less inclined to get involved. We just need the continued involvement of the community because it has been a huge part of us being able to do what we've been able to do. There's a lot of programs that I feel like have helped the numbers that aren't police department initiatives, and so those things need to continue."
Collins said he's happy to see the decrease in crime.
"Absolutely," he said. "Of course. It's Savannah. You've got to love that."