Mounting troubles and questions regarding the future of the Savannah-Chatham police department

There have been quite a number of shootings in Savannah in the last couple of weeks (at least 15), which has combined with other news to put crime back under the spotlight in Savannah.

In addition to all the recent violence, the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department is facing high turnover of officers, former Chief Willie Lovett is facing serious charges for a “commercial gambling-extortion scheme,” the search for a permanent Chief continues, and the city-county agreement to merge police forces earlier in this century is now in jeopardy because of ongoing disputes.

It remains to be seen whether Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson and City Manager Stephanie Cutter are capable of dealing with these problems individually, much less simultaneously.

On top of all that, the city — as a way of improving a neighborhood — is planning to demolish historic homes that have been rented by working class black families for 130 years and replacing them with a police station. On a street named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. No joke. (I’ll have more to say about this later, but I have already blogged about it quite a bit in addition to my City Talk columns in the Savannah Morning News.)

Editor Jim Morekis from last week’s Connect Savannah:

As the mayor points out, that bright future is threatened by any surge in street crime, in or out of downtown. But this crossroads was visible for quite awhile to anyone who wanted to pay attention.

Some of us have warned for years that Savannah’s inability to address the crime situation would inevitably be a hindrance to meaningful economic growth.

City leaders across multiple administrations have had ample opportunity to increase public trust over the years.

From my City Talk column on Tuesday, in which I describe my disgust with Savannah’s continued toleration of highly visible street prostitution and drug dealing:

Street level dealing and solicitation might be tough to prosecute, but how can more serious crimes be policed when other criminals — those who want to buy illegal drugs and hire prostitutes — have an open invitation to come into the neighborhood?

Street crimes like these are not “victimless” crimes as I hear argued routinely. Neighborhoods are destroyed by criminals involved in illicit selling and buying of whatever.

We can and should focus on community outreach, education, poverty reduction and other initiatives. And on rooting out police corruption.

But we aren’t going to see significant reductions in crime if we continue to tolerate so much of it right out in the open.

Now we’re seeing new crime initiatives with unsettling names, like Operation Ceasefire and Operation Trust and Information

There is a great deal of support for the rank and file officers, but public trust in the higher-ups, which was already pretty low, is eroding fast.