SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - For the last three years, Savannah has been clawing its way out of a hole so deep, many locals believed we may never see the light again. Policing in the city was plagued with corruption and scandal and starved of the money needed to support a force half its size.
That was before the city came across the application of a 65-year-old, Georgia law enforcement officer named Joseph Lumpkin; 2014's Georgia Police Chief of the Year.
Savannah City Council rolled the dice. What they got was a new chief and a new department.
He's too old! He could never have the energy for this job! He'll be gone in a month!
Lumpkin had heard it all.
He certainly arrived in Savannah backed by great hope and tempered expectations. My, how little we knew.
Lumpkin's first order of business was changing the way our elected officials look at the business of policing. Thousands were poured into a glossy recruitment campaign that sold Savannah first and demanded character above all else.
"We probably had the most robust employment process and success in the Southeast if not the nation," Lumpkin said.
Today, two-thirds of all Metro officers can say they were hired and pinned by Lumpkin. That's 340 men and women infusing new blood and new ideas into a department.
If there is one thing that just might secure the direction and momentum of the force, it's these newer officers trained in the ideals Lumpkin established.
For officers not willing to follow the leader, another tool has been used by Lumpkin more in the last three years than in the previous 20.
"In my opinion, the police departments have always had the capacity to terminate those who should not be there. It's just the will to actually do that," Lumpkin said. "I know the will is there with me. And I would suggest that the individuals that will follow me would maintain that. I pray they will."
In fact, nearly half of officers leaving the department today, are leaving with a pink slip in their hand. Not because they found a better, hirer paying job. And even with that, the attrition rate at Metro has dropped from nearly 20 percent three years ago, to 11 percent today, which is half the state average.
"He has always been so encouraging to do what is best for the community and for the victims of crime," Phil Wislar, with the FBI Savannah, said.
Lumpkin loves a good relationship and he rebuilt the city's with state and federal law enforcement partners after decades of isolation.
"Just because you're in a position of leadership doesn't mean that you're a leader. You know, leadership takes engagement, not just visibility. And he has been engaged since the day I showed up. He was the first meeting I had when I arrived in Savannah," Wislar said.
"We all are checks and balances on each other. And we can help if we continue to do that," Lumpkin said.
And then there is the single most important relationship of all and another missing from a department that had been wrought with corruption. Without the help of the people you're protecting, it's impossible to protect the people.
"My first 10 months here I had eight officers shot at and two shot. Thank God in the last 28 months or so we haven't had that type of violence toward the police. That's a measurement of police-community relations in itself that's significantly important to us," Lumpkin said.
The chief's talents, his boundless energy and 12-hour days were not targeting praise. They were targeting the one percent of Savannah bent on hurting others, our families and our sense of community. That target's bullseye that has plenty of direct hits and room for plenty more.
When asked if he thought Savannah was a better place than it was three and a half years ago, Lumpkin responded, "I think it is. I think it's a safer place to live and I think it will become increasingly safer with some of the systems that we have put into place. And it's we. It's not what I have done. It's what the team here has done."
Lumpkin will never take more than his share of the credit. It should be no surprise that Jack Lumpkin, now a couple years shy of 70, is heading to a place that puts him closer to family, in a department with some of his oldest law enforcement buddies and perhaps more importantly for him, a department in crisis, undermanned, under-equipped, and in desperate need of a lesson in relationships.