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Savannah City Council considers more than $1 million for public safety investments

September 28, 2016

With violent crime increasing this year in Savannah, the city’s investment to counteract the trend is also on the rise.

On Thursday, the mayor and aldermen will consider spending more than $1 million on equipment for the Savannah-Chatham police department.

The pending investments include a $672,730, five-year contract for a police vehicle tracking system to help determine the fair share of department costs between the city and Chatham County. A $503,154 contract with MotionLink for the tracking system was actually approved by the council on Aug. 4, but the contractor could not fulfill the contract because of licensing issues with a third party, according to a city staff report. The council is also considering a $245 increase to a $36,998 contract for 25 public safety cameras that was initially approved in August.

In addition, the council will consider purchasing 30 additional body cameras for officers at a cost of $94,379 as well as a $277,365 contract for software support and maintenance to provide computer-aided dispatch, mobility and police records management.

Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who ran his successful election campaign on a pledge to fight crime, said he believes tools such as the cameras will help the council meet that goal after they are acquired and put in place. As of Sept. 17, violent crime was 10 percent higher than last year, according to Savannah-Chatham police. There have been 42 homicides so far in 2016.

The city will also likely include funding for additional officers and vehicles in next year’s budget to help combat that trend, DeLoach said.

“I think community policing will help in the violent crime areas,” he said. “If you don’t have the numbers you can’t do community policing.”

The council is also expected to consider on Thursday putting up for sale property along Oglethorpe Avenue that was originally purchased by the city for a new police headquarters, with the intention of using the funds for more public safety investments such as additional surveillance cameras.

The planned investments come after Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin submitted a list earlier in the year detailing almost $80 million in potential investments for improved law enforcement at the council’s request. Of that amount, about $17 million in equipment and personnel is described in the document as “must have” to maximize public safety. A majority of the remaining expenses consists of a new $50 million police headquarters, which Savannah Alderman Julian Miller said will likely have to be part of a sales-tax referendum.

They are trying to move ahead with the other priorities, but the process can be slow, Miller said. “Most of the stuff should have been here years ago,” he said.

In August Lumpkin reported that the Savannah-Chatham police department had only three officer vacancies remaining after the public safety adjustments were made, although 109 officers were still in training and the department was not expected to reach effective staffing levels until November.

In the meantime, Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas said the city should attempt a partnership with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department, which may be able to provide deputies to patrol less crime-ridden areas so that Savannah-Chatham officers could focus on the problem areas.

“I think there is an opportunity for us to raise the ranks with trained officers without having to wait long periods of time,” Thomas said.

Many investments in public safety had been approved by the previous council and former Mayor Edna Jackson. Those investments included $1.7 million spent in 2014 to equip officers with body cameras and Tasers, in addition to the $175,000 purchase of the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system and a $240,120 contract for what is now the End Gun Violence anti-violence initiative that year. Last year, the previous council approved pay increases for police and Savannah Fire and Emergency Services employees, which amounted to an additional cost of about $4.8 million in 2016, according to city officials.

While he supported those investments, as well as those brought before the current council, Savannah Alderman Van Johnson said that just adding more police and cameras will not stop violent crime. Instead, smarter gun laws are needed in addition to job training programs for ex-offenders, Johnson said.

“I think it is a people issue and a social issue,” he said. “I would much more prefer those funds are used on the front end rather than the back end.”

Savannah Now: Savannah