Savannah City Council votes unanimously to dissolve SCMPD merger

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In a special Savannah City Council meeting Friday morning, members voted 8-0 unanimously to end the controversial police department merger with Chatham County.

A six-month notice of termination will be sent to Chatham County, effective February 1, 2018.

“This is a meeting none of us wanted to have,” says Mayor Eddie DeLoach. “Since the county hasn’t responded we are forced to take a vote to end the police merger.”

Mayor DeLoach and City Manager Rob Hernandez sent letters to the County on June 29, 2017, requesting to meet with and resolve several outstanding issues concerning the future of the Savannah-Chatham County Police Department.

This comes after the City commissioned an independent study of costs and services. The Berkshire Study found Chatham County owed the City of Savannah up to $7,000,000 for services.

“The Berkshire Study told us exactly what we needed to do to have a modern, functional, good police department.” says Alderman Julian Miller of District 4. “We have to deal with the realities of the situation.”

The County has expressed dissatisfaction with those finding and indicated it would not pay all those costs.

City Council members voted unanimously to end the merge. The City says this will cost less in the long run and allow for more focus on public safety.

Alderman Van Johnson of District 1 and Alderman Estella Shabazz of District 5 were not present at the special meeting this morning.

Below is a statement read by Mayor Eddie DeLoach at today’s meeting:

Good Morning, this is not a meeting I or any of Council wanted to have.  We had hoped we would have received a reply from the County during these 21 days. We can’t run a police department without communication, especially communication required by the merger agreement.

Myself and this Council have defined Public Safety as our top priority. We have endorsed the seven-minute response time Berkshire proposes and all the resources necessary to obtain that goal. This is not an issue to be debated or compromised. Lives and livelihood of our community depend on it.

Berkshire recommended the addition of 150 officers to provide a seven-minute response time and detailed the costs that should be allocated to each entity.  Four city employees, four county employees and five police officers met for more than 25 hours to guide this study.

County leaders and staff were jointly involved in the selection of this consultant, the directives provided for the study and the proceedings during the study period. It was only after the results of the study contrasted with the expectations of the Commission that any objections were raised.

We still do not know where the County stands on the length of the response time, or even if they desire to hire more officers for the department.  These are not questions we can wait to have answers on.  If we started hiring officers now, it would be at least a minimum of 6 months before they are on patrol.  There was never a discussion to hold negotiations in December.  The Berkshire report was completed in April so we could finalize the County’s share prior to them adopting a budget.

And since the County has not responded we are forced to take a vote this morning to end the police merger.  It is a merger this Council has worked hard to save and improve upon. This vote is coming pursuant to Paragraph 15 of our agreement.  If successful, Chatham County should proceed with securing and having in operation its own police protection for the unincorporated area by February 1, 2018.

Mayor DeLoach delivered the attached letter to Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott to announce the City’s decision.

We will have reaction from Chatham County leaders and hear more from City Council members on this decision tonight on News 3 and WSAV.com.

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