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Chatham Co. DA discusses crime, district funds with downtown business owners

Chatham Co. DA discusses crime, district funds with downtown business owners.
Published: Feb. 8, 2017 at 10:28 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2017 at 6:04 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Chatham County district attorney met with downtown business owners Wednesday to discuss the crime and gang issues in the city and how they're trying to eliminate them.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap says the lack of money is one thing that can cause a roadblock in getting violent offenders behind bars. She says it's hard to keep good prosecutors in this area because they can ultimately get paid more in a bigger circuit, like Atlanta.

Granted she says she does have great prosecutors in her office and they're doing the job out of passion and not for the money.

This is the same for the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department. Chief Jack Lumpkin is pushing to get more officers from the city, but with tight budgets and other agencies giving pay raises, it can be hard to keep officers here are well.

So, while she says the county has been generous and they're making good progress on things she wants to get to the point where she's paying equal to bigger circuits.

"Savannah is down here in South Georgia, and I'm competing against the Atlanta circuits that can pay more money. The other piece to that is I have some really experienced prosecutors in the office and I think at the end of the day if your daughter was murdered you would want the best of the best and I got to figure out a way to keep them," said Heap.

She says despite retention and money being issues, they've seen a drastic improvement in crime fighting in our area because of the multi-agency collaboration.

U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver said the problem is two-fold. There are the known gangs infiltrating large metropolitan areas, as well as "the younger people who are emulating them. They're not members of these national organizations, but they certainly want to be like them."

However, with the three agencies working together, they are getting the bad guys off the streets.

SCMPD Maj. Kerry Thomas says from the call-ins with the End Gun Violence initiative to the personal letters from Chief Lumpkin, the message is getting across.

"In addition to just spreading and them talking about it, you also got to walk the walk," said Maj. Thomas. "You also got to be about it. When we come to you, we're not making idle threats. We're telling you that if you don't change your behavior, this is what's going to happen to you."

Heap says on any given day they're fighting 1,500 cases, but with the new gang prosecutor hire, who she says has more than a 95 percent conviction rate, and working side-by-side with the U.S. Attorney's Office, they can get these criminals stiffer sentences and behind bars far away from home.

Metro police also say they're not just targeting gangs, but also groups. However, it takes the whole village.

"We basically ask you to be a part of the shared responsibility. You see something, you say something. Call law enforcement, be a part of the solution," said Maj. Thomas.

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