A FEW weeks ago I wrote about the dearth of information on the upcoming de-merger of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, which will cease to be "Metro" as of February 2018.
In the interest of fairness I wanted to share the latest information, since the picture has become a bit clearer. But just a bit.
The important news has to do not only with the geographic locations of precinct headquarters, but some completely new developments in that area.
Arguably the biggest change will be the Precinct charged with patrolling the Eastside moving from the Islands back within City limits — but just barely.
Instead of being off Johnny Mercer Boulevard on the way to Wilmington Island, the new Eastside Precinct HQ will be in what’s now a relatively small office complex on the border of Savannah and Thunderbolt, at 2250 E. Victory Dr., just a few yards within Savannah city limits. The lease will be $176,593 for the first year.
This will potentially address one of the more odd aspects of the merged police department, namely that officers charged with patrolling one of the most crime-ridden areas of Savannah, the Eastside, were headquartered miles away from that troubled zone in the Islands Precinct.
Another big development is the move of the Downtown Precinct HQ to the old Great Dane building on East Lathrop Avenue, next to Southbound Brewing and just down from The Stage On Bay. That lease will cost $345,360 a year.
The Downtown Precinct itself is expanding in size, and a new substation will be added near the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
The Southside Precinct HQ is unchanged other than the addition of a substation at Highway 204.
However, at a recent City Council meeting, Southside Alderman Tony Thomas made a particular point of saying that he was worried that the new de-merged department wouldn’t emphasize crime fighting on the Southside enough to meet current demand.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that the Southside – which a generation ago was home to some of Savannah’s most exclusive suburban neighborhoods — is now experiencing a significant upsurge in violent crime.
As for the Central Precinct, plans are going ahead for the construction of a brand new HQ at Montgomery and West 34th Street, a design which Mayor Eddie DeLoach decried as looking like a prison.
Recent cost estimates of the de-merger to City taxpayers are estimated as high as $9 million. As this is unbudgeted cost — and as City Manager Rob Hernandez says he won’t consider a tax hike — the money will have to come from cuts in services and/or other departments.
(Or potentially, in a controversial but almost certainly DOA proposal to charge citizens and nonprofits a new, standalone fee for fire department service.)
And what of the other side of the equation, unincorporated Chatham County? As I write this, news broke that the County has hired its own new police chief to take over post-merger.
Kalamazoo, Michigan, Police Chief Jeff Hadley, a nine-year veteran of that post, announced he’d accepted the job.
Problem is, the media found out before the Chatham County Commission did.
As has become commonplace, Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott apparently continued his now-infamous tactic of keeping the entire rest of the Commission in the dark about most major decisions. (County Manager Lee Smith is technically the one to do the hiring, but there is zero chance that Scott wasn’t firmly in the loop.)
The de-merger and its attendant confusion comes at a time not only of rampant gun crime in the City, but an enormous spike in property crimes in the unincorporated area, particularly the Islands.
Most of the County’s stated opposition to continuing with a merged police department rested on the premise that County taxpayers were subsidizing police work in the higher-crime City of Savannah.
But as the years progress — and as crime almost inevitably continues to worsen in the unincorporated area — I wonder how accurate that premise will turn out to be.