Crowds Turn Out for Crime Forum - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/28/06

Crowds Turn Out for Crime Forum

Rep. Kingston (standing, left) welcomes Greenberg to the forum. Rep. Kingston (standing, left) welcomes Greenberg to the forum.

Several hundred people filled the Savannah Civic Center last night, trying to find ways to cut crime. Savannah-Chatham leaders brought in a familiar crime-fighting face, former Savannah police major and retired Charleston police chief Reuben Greenberg, to talk about the success he's had turning his city around.

His main message was that Savannah can't just throw its arms up and say its problems are here to stay. He says it's up to the city to have high expectations, and do what it takes to get it done.

Chief Emeritus Greenberg says he sees a lot of similarities between Savannah's current problems and Charleston's old ones. And when asked, he said a big fix is attitude.

"Did you do something in Charleston like say, 'We want to be the safest community in this country or the Southeast or whatever?'" asked Rusty Ross, himself the father of a murder victim. "Seems like you've got to know where you're headed to get there."

"Boy did we make a difference," Greenberg told the crowd. "We went from five, six, as many as eight people killed a year in public housing, to none killed in eight years. Nobody killed."

He said that turnaround wasn't even a policing issue--it was the housing authority getting tough on whom it would let live in public housing. But he says there are plenty of ways the police department can improve. First and foremost, he says the city's got to work the budget to have a full-strength police force.

"If we're not going to spend money for public safety, then what's the point?" he asked. "What's the issue?"

Greenberg says just a full staff isn't good enough though. Out of 387 officers in Charleston, 386 have four-year degrees. "Festus was not the best guy to be a police officer, maybe on Gunsmoke, but not today in Charleston, South Carolina," said Greenberg. "We didn't want Festus working for us."

"He doesn't pull any punches," said US Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA Dist. 1). "As with all great leaders, he can be very frank, he can be somewhat controversial around the edges, but we're not looking for sappy syrupy stuff at this point."

One other suggestion Greenberg had was that Savannah work harder to keep criminals in jail. He says Charleston police made it a point to show up at parole hearings and ask that violent criminals not be allowed back into society.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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