On crime and COVID-19, mayor says Savannahians must do their part

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Mayor Van Johnson says Georgia’s first vaccine shipment arrival in the Savannah area is welcome news, but it won’t be enough to combat current trends.

“This is serious,” the mayor said Tuesday. “The vaccine is not going to save us out of this. We have to continue the good habits we’ve been doing.”

Local trends in case rates, community transition, and testing percentages are all up from last week, and with the holidays upon us, Johnson says it’s on every Savannahian to follow best safety practices.

For the second week in a row, Johnson wore a mask throughout his weekly media update. Although reporters stood 6 feet away and shared surface areas had been sanitized, he said he’s following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency recently recommended the “universal wearing of face masks,” including use during all indoor activities outside of one’s home.

To help ease the financial burden of the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Johnson says he is initiating an alcohol license renewal program, which allows local business owners to pay for their alcohol license in three equal installments, instead of all at once.

Tuesday’s press conference came on the heels of a violent weekend in Savannah. Johnson said community violence remains at “an unacceptable level.”

“Our police are doing the work,” he said, adding, “It’s an issue of behavior and it’s the introduction of guns.”

The mayor brought in Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter to introduce some “significant strides” the department has made in altering or adopting new policies. Back in September, the Savannah Citizens Accountability and Review of Emergency Services, or Savannah CARES, released a dozen police reform recommendations.

According to Johnson, in 2021, a minimum of 16 hours of de-escalation training will be mandatory for all personnel in the Savannah Police Department.

As for crisis intervention training, Minter said 70% of the department is currently trained, compared to the national average of about 40%.

“The vast majority of people that we meet on a daily basis, some of them are going through some type of crisis and any training that we can give to officers to enhance their skill level in assisting individuals that are going through that crisis… is a great benefit for us,” said Chief Minter.

The chief also said the department is following the Savannah CARES recommendation to prohibit the use of warning shots and is providing clarity on its lateral vascular neck restraint policy.

“I failed to see any particular situation where I felt that that would have been necessary, so we went ahead and pulled that out of the policy,” said Minter.

To promote engagement with the community, SPD has purchased 18 cell phones for each precinct for officers to call people directly before they respond to a crime scene. A new remote report center has responded to more than 3,000 non-emergency calls, which gives officers more time to handle emergency situations.

The Savannah CARES Task Force will soon resume its study. Next, it will evaluate how officers engage with members of the community.

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