SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson set a goal Thursday for when he wants city council members, Savannah Police Department (SPD), and community members to come up with a comprehensive plan for change in the Hostess City.
“I want to make sure we’re able to keep the conversation where it needs to be,” said Mayor Johnson during a city workshop.
Johnson says he was inspired by My Brother’s Keeper and a town hall hosted by former President Barrack Obama, in which he challenged America’s mayors to thoroughly investigate local police departments and look for ways to improve.
Mayor Johnson’s plan — called Moment to Movement — starts with a task force focused on evaluating the Savannah Police Department’s policies and procedures. The Mayor asked each council member to nominate a member of the community to serve on it. On Thursday, he says just two aldermen had nominated a resident. The deadline is Friday.
“The reform comes from us, it is driven by us, and I think it will continue to get better,” he said.
In addition to a task force, SPD Police Chief Roy Minter has been tasked with gathering information on use of force incidents in the last three years and any internal affairs complaint.
The city, furthermore, will host forums to allow for community input. Mayor Johnson says the forums may happen through Zoom, through email or through telephone calls. That part is still undetermined.
Findings from each facet of the plan will be combined into a final report that will suggest ways the police department implement new policies that can benefit all citizens. The mayor hopes it will come together in the next 90-100 days.
District 2 Alderman Detric Leggett suggested SPD recruits train more with the community before they become full fledged officers. Chief Roy Minter says he is open to the idea, though recruits are already tasked with community projects and engagement during their weeks of training.
Chief Minter also brought up an idea to allow community members to vet officers before they join the department.
“They have to sit down and have an exit board with their supervisors,” explained Chief Minter. “One of the things we can do is add a citizen….a couple of citzens to that board before we release those officers as solo officers on the street.”
Chief Minter also provided council with an update on crime numbers throughout the department’s jurisdiction.
The good news? Violent crime is down 5 percent throughout the city.
Homicides, however, are up from this time last year. In 2019, SPD reported 11 homicides. In 2020, that number is 17. And after Wednesday night’s homicide, the total number is 18. Mayor Johnson says he was on-scene.
“These officers were out there. And I watched them taking care of the family that had been displaced from their house while the forensic officers did what they had to do,” he said.
Mayor Johnson says what he witnessed is proof the city can demand change while supporting officers at the same time. The Mayor has jumpstarted a social media hashtag — #SavPoliceHero — to promote the deeds of good officers. He is encouraging everyone to participate.