Lawmakers consider removing county police departments

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CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WSAV) – The bill would allow voters or local governments to decide if they want to keep county police departments.

“All the bill does is create a process so that the citizens of the county can dissolve a county police department and place the police powers on the administration of the county sheriff,” Georgia Senator, William Ligon said.

The bill started after a grand jury report accused officers of the Glynn County Police Department of misconduct and poor communication with the sheriff’s office. The reports recommended that voters should decide whether or not to abolish a county police department. If approved the sheriff’s office could take over its responsibilities.

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding with the bill itself that it would dissolve county police departments it doesn’t do that at all. It just creates a process that would get it to the voters,” Ligon said.

”Counties should not be punished for the mistakes of one police department or one county,” Chatham County Manager with Chatham County Police, Lee Smith said.

Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher agrees. He says the 21 million dollar demerger of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department is working.

“If the taxpayers decide to do it I’ll undertake that job, but right now if the wheel isn’t broke don’t fix it,” Wilcher said. “My job here is I have 1,750 in jail, I have a big jail to look after. I have 18 judges I have to make sure is taken care of plus civil and criminal papers that I have to serve during every day.”

When CCPD was originally set up the sheriff’s office helped out, but Smith says it put a strain on the department. Some opponents are saying local governments should handle their own business.

“We’re like 70 people short but you know we’re in the process of some in school getting certified and we have another class starting,” Wilcher said.

Sheriff Wilcher said there is no reason to change things since Chatham County was not involved. If signed into law by Governor Kemp it would take effect in 2022.

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