IT SEEMS like so long ago now, with the compressed modern news cycle.
But just two weekends ago was one of the bloodiest in recent memory in Savannah, with eight shooting incidents and two murders.
With the addition of two more homicides on Monday, we now stand at 41 homicides by gunfire.
If the trendline continues we could even set a new homicide record in Savannah by the end of 2016, topping the all-time high of 60 set in 1991 at the height of the gang-related activity of Ricky Jivens.
(Labor Day weekend had an unfortunate analogue as Chicago, one of the nation’s most violent cities, reached its 500th homicide for the year, with four more months to go. The kicker? On a per-thousand basis, Savannah’s murder rate is even higher than Chicago’s.)
Of course, trendlines rarely stay exactly the same. Let’s hope that was the worst weekend of the year.
But the political reality is becoming unavoidable: Violent crime is getting worse, not better, with the new mayoral administration and majority on City Council, who were voted in largely on a platform of getting serious about fighting crime.
The more time passes since the election, the more the question begs itself: When will we see results? It’s been nearly a year since the election and nine months since the inauguration. It’s a fair question.
To be sure, the most vocal critics of the new administration are old-guard Edna Jackson supporters. For them, this is a purely partisan political issue and they are trying to set the stage for the 2019 election and a restoration of the status quo, for their own reasons.
Bluntly put, they’re bitter because their candidate lost. I suspect many will simply not get over it no matter what.
That said, and also to be fair: They have a point.
If the DeLoach administration was serious about cracking down on crime—and I do believe it was and is —the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is going bad.
To an extent, the DeLoach administration is benefiting from not just one but two honeymoon periods: The one new mayors usually get right after being elected, as well as a second and new honeymoon period coming up with the hiring of a new City Manager, Rob Hernandez, who is set to begin work next month.
There’s little question that many of the worst staffing/salary issues with Savannah-Chatham Metro Police originated not with former Mayor Jackson herself —who took the fall—but with City Manager Stephanie Cutter (who by prior agreement will continue to draw full salary for a full year after Hernandez officially starts!).
On the bright side, much of the bottleneck in getting needed resources to local police has been cleared. SCMPD is at full-staff for the first time in literally decades.
Chief Lumpkin has wisely stayed ahead of the curve on issues of police reform, and has been very quick and transparent in disciplining officers who violate protocol.
Four officers were suspended after the Patrick Mumford misidentification/tasing incident, and two were suspended for violating protocol after their response to a shots-fired call in July which revealed a homicide.
The DeLoach administration has some positive things to point to, no doubt.
But there’s still that homicide number, ticking away in the corner. The benchmark metric by which Savannah mayors are voted in or out.
The other metric is the usual one for most of us: Money.
Despite running on a fight-crime platform, most of City Council’s time these days seems to be spent on other issues. Some are clearly groundbreaking and important in their own right, such as food trucks and homeless housing. Others such as the Westside Arena, the Fairgrounds purchase, and the Bay Street makeover remain controversial.
The blockbuster budget items continue to beg the same old question: If that much money can be found and/or raised in taxes for elective projects, why can’t it be found to fight crime, which threatens the entire foundation of any project here?
Mayor DeLoach himself mounted a well-intentioned but futile effort to reexamine the location and scope of the Arena project, but the weight of public opinion was just too much and the timeline too advanced.
So in the final analysis you could say the DeLoach administration almost finds itself in the same treacherous waters as the Jackson administration: A stubbornly high murder rate combined with high-dollar, high-profile expenditures which don’t address crime at all.
One hopes the opportunity for a reset with the new City Manager will bring a renewed focus on crime.