State Rep. Jesse Petrea criticizes Savannah Mayor on gun violence

Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 6:17 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The rise in violent crime and shootings in Savannah has drawn criticism by one state lawmaker who says more needs to be done.

He says the mayor’s recent comments about invoking a curfew to curb crime are what provoked him.

Flood lights in Savannah’s City Market, increased traffic control and support for a City Market imposed curfew are some of the most recent efforts Mayor Van Johnson has highlighted to curb gun violence.

“There are things we cannot control. We have a state that allows guns to be everywhere so therefore we cannot control firearms and what people’s beefs are and how to resolve them,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

“All I hear is the mayor’s comments over and over again. ‘We can’t do anything, let’s lock everybody down again and call for curfews or let’s blame law abiding citizens who possess weapons to protect their children and family,” State Rep. Jesse Petrea/(R) Ga District 166 said.

In a 700-word letter he posted on his social media earlier this week, the representative outlined what he believes are the underlying factors that need to change: low morale and high vacancies on the Savannah Police force.

As of Wednesday, Savannah Police says it has 104 officer vacancies. That’s a 20 percent vacancy rate for the department.

State Rep. Petrea says there is help the state can provide in the meantime.

“State Patrol has a special unit that’s being used in high-crime areas to come in and overwhelm a certain area with a presence and help to partner with local law enforcement,” State Rep. Jesse Petrea/(R) Ga District 166 said.

It’s a partnership underway in Atlanta, Macon and Columbus, cities that have seen a surge in violent crime.

Mayor Van Johnson says the city has not asked for help from the crime suppression unit.

He said it’s an operational decision that he believes won’t change things for the long haul.

“Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t, but in this case in terms of what we need. We need help not necessarily in dealing with things after they happen. We need help in dealing with it before it happens.”

As for police morale, State. Rep. Petra also said what doesn’t help is the District Attorneys recent probation plea deals for murder and softer stance on first-time DUI offenders.

“What kind of message does that send? How does that affect morale? No one is talking about that,” State Rep. Jesse Petrea/(R) Ga District 166 said.

“Is that a concern of yours?”

“For our police officers, it’s always a concern. When we have officers in the 90 percentile of clearing cases and then to see these folks back on the streets. It’s a morale issue for when they are able to lock up folks and not keep them there. But it’s a variety of issues affecting us and agencies across the country,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

Back in his office, State Rep. Petrea explained his hope with the open letter.

“These are the things we need to come together and have real conversations and talk about real solutions, none of those things were mentioned,” State Rep. Jesse Petrea/(R) Ga District 166 said.

“So this is a conversation starter, you putting this out there?”

“I believe it’s time to have a conversation,” State Rep. Jesse Petrea/(R) Ga District 166 said.

A conversation he hasn’t had yet with Mayor Van Johnson.

“He’s never picked up the phone and called me,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said.

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