SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Savannah Police Department is starting a new Pre-Arrest Diversion Program that will give officers the option to divert offenders with low-level misdemeanors to an alternative program that won’t result in jail time.
“That first offense can really be a deal-breaker,” said Alderwoman at Large, Carol Bell of District 1.
This is why city leaders and police want to offer first-time offenders a better deal; community service instead of jail time.
“It’s offenses such as disorderly conduct, obstruction by giving a false statement, obstruction by fleeing,” said SPD Major Robert Gavin. “Those offenses that I just listed made up for 8700 arrests in 2017.”
The program is the result of a 2017 technical assistance grant to the city received through the National League of Cities that required the creation of a program to reduce the number of first-time offenders entering the criminal justice system
“Sixty-eight percent of the crimes in 2017 fell into those categories and most of them were committed by African American males,” said Bell. “They are low lying victimless offenses that can really cause major problems for individuals when they are committed.”
While the program gives individuals a second chance police said it also allows officers to go after the real criminals.
“This is in no way someone being soft on crime, this is in no way letting people who commit serious offenses go,” said Major Gavin.
The diversion program will not be available for violent crimes or traffic violations.
After the program is offered by the officer and accepted, it must be completed within 60 days.
“Sixty days to attend the class, complete the community service hours, and at that time they’ve completed–they’ve successfully completed the program there is no arrest record all there is a police report of the initial incident,” said Major Gavin.
Some examples of diversion alternatives required include drug screenings, anger management, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence classes, gun safety classes, parenting classes and community service.
If the subject does not complete the requirements within the assigned time frame, a warrant will be issued for the original offense.
“Having an arrest record can impact a person for years to come,” Chief Roy Minter said. “It can jeopardize current and future employment, housing and compromise student loans. By using this program, the offender will have no arrest record and will be guided toward a program that will address the behavior while not impacting that person’s future. We believe this will reduce recidivism, improve law enforcement relations and enhance community partnerships.”
Major Gavin said the program will take effect by the end of this week and all officers will complete online training.