Downtown Neighborhood Association hosts public safety discussion

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 10:53 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A consistent rise in violent crime. That’s one of the concerns the Downtown Neighborhood Association brought to Savannah’s top dogs in law enforcement tonight.

The latest data from Savannah Police shows a 9% rise in violent crime from this year to last.

That’s for the week of September 10th. The department’s numbers show the city saw the same increase from 2020 to 2021.

It was a packed room at the Coastal Georgia Center for a sit-down with city and county law enforcement and the district attorney.

Crime is a big issue in this community. The chief of police citing more than 200 guns stolen since the start of the year.

Another problem is a shortage of police officers.

“We have over 100 vacancies in the Savannah Police Department right now. How do you have an impact on what we want to achieve and what the community’s expectations are?” said Savannah’s Interim Police Chief Lenny Gunther.

He said decreasing violent crime starts with their relationship with the community.

District Attorney Shalena Jones said recidivism is another contributing factor. According to her, Chatham County is number one for that in the country.

“The markers and stigma from being in the criminal justice system make you unemployable. You often can’t get federal pell grants or other forms of assistance to get you into college. You can’t advance your education. You can’t get social benefits. You can’t get Medicaid. You can’t sign up for many benefits or get public housing.”

Sheriff John Wilcher said they’ve been accepting a limited number of misdemeanors since last year. They are locking up DUI’s and domestic violence suspects though.

It’s partially because of jail capacity, the cost to keep them and being short 189 employees.

“It takes a minimum of 42 officers to run that jail in the daytime, nighttime, weekend and everything else. We’re paying lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, privates, and correctional officers time and a half to work overtime and you got some correctional officers on $41,000 a year job making $60,$70, $80,000 for the overtime they’re working.”

The district attorney’s office recently hired virtual ADA’s to help with their mounting case loads. Jones said of a 28,507 case backlog, they’ve gotten rid of 7,000 cases.

“One of the things I implemented when I came in was quality control...that’s the big part of it. What cases did we have that could be disposed of another way? How many cases do we have where the witnesses are no longer available or the officers are no longer with the police department because they’re gone? Can we prove this case without a reasonable doubt at trial? If we can’t, then we have to find a way to dispose of it. A lot of that number was us doing an assessment to see which cases were legally viable.”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association also wanted to address what they say are failures with 911 calls.

The director could not make it tonight, but the DNA said they will be at their November 15th meeting.