Savannah violent crime slightly down in first 6 months of 2017

Mayor says city safe, with numbers headed down as ‘promised’

When Savannah’s Independence Day fireworks show ended this year, tourists and locals alike, all clad in red, white and blue, funneled from River Street to the downtown area to continue celebrating.

 

But just after midnight, their revelry turned to fear.


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A white SUV traveling north on Jefferson Street, near the intersection with West St. Julian Street, veered toward a group of people on the sidewalk. At least one of the SUV’s passengers pulled out a gun and began shooting into a group of pedestrians standing nearby.

City Market, one of Savannah’s most popular tourist and nightlife hubs, erupted in panic. Molly MacPherson’s general manager Jonathan Hendrick recalled seeing a swarm of people sprinting down Congress Street, trying to escape the area.

Three people were shot: A 23-year-old man, a 16-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman. The 16-year-old male was critically injured.

The SUV fled the scene. Savannah-Chatham police followed. The chase ended when the driver, Jerry Chambers Jr., 17, crashed his vehicle at the corner of Bay and Barnard streets, plowing into a crowd of people in the process.

Chambers’ vehicle struck six pedestrians when it crashed and killed Scott Waldrup, 30, and the two occupants of the vehicle, Gabriel Magulias, 20, and Spencer Stuckey, 17.

 

By the numbers

Savannah residents have become begrudgingly accustomed to violence in their city.

Less than 48 hours after the holiday spree of violence, Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach took time before the City Council meeting to address a large crowd of protestors who marched to City Hall, spurred by Waldrup’s death.

DeLoach, who was elected after running a campaign mainly focused on crime, said that while the loss of any life is tragic, his administration is doing what it promised.

“I really feel good about where we’re going. It won’t ever be enough, certainly not for the gentleman who lost his life, but we’re doing everything we can,” DeLoach said. “We feel like we’ve turned the ship in the right direction.”

In recent years, violent crime in Savannah has been as high as it’s been since the early 1990s, when the Ricky Jivens Gang terrorized the streets. In 2015, metro investigated 53 homicides. In 2016, the number dropped slightly to 50. The most ever recorded in the city was 60, back in 1991.

So far in 2017, there have been 25 homicides in the Savannah-Chatham police jurisdiction. At this point in 2016, there were 30.

Earlier this year, Savannah saw the longest stretch without a homicide in three years. From March 6 to April 24, metro tallied no killings. The last time the city went 49 days without a homicide was April 2014.

DeLoach said any decrease in violent crime numbers is a welcome one.

“The numbers, whether (the public) feel they’re moving fast enough or quick enough, they’re moving in the right direction from one year to the next,” DeLoach said. “They’ve headed down, and that’s what we promised we would get done.”

According to numbers from Savannah-Chatham police at the start of July, overall violent crime — which includes homicide, rape, commercial, street and residential robberies, aggravated assault with a gun and aggravated assault without a gun — is down by 6 percent compared to the same time last year. The largest dip in violent crime was in street robbery; on July 1, there had been 117 robberies in 2017, compared to the 180 in 2016.

Savannah-Chatham police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said robberies are one of the biggest thorns in his side, because they often lead to a violent interaction between strangers.

“Street robberies and commercial robberies are types of crimes that really frighten the public. They frighten me,” Lumpkin said. “They keep me up at night because it’s an act between a stranger and a citizen that lasts only a few seconds, but the potential for violence is high.”

Police have recorded 59 rapes in 2017, marking a slight increase from 2016’s 57. Four additional commercial robberies have been tallied this year, leaving the total at 31. The greatest increase in violent crime has come from aggravated assaults, with 310 tallied so far this year, an increase from 267 in 2016.

 

Intelligence-led policing

One strategy Savannah-Chatham police employ is intelligence-led policing. ILP is a strategic approach to crime which makes use of data analysis to determine how best to allocate police resources.

Lumpkin said ILP targets the small number of people committing the highest number of crimes, and collects data on members of the community prone to committing violent crime. The data collected can give police a better idea of where crime is being committed, and what groups or gangs are most active.

“You target the individuals and their behavior,” Lumpkin said. “Most people in these neighborhoods are good people and want to be safe. They want to be able to let the kids go out and play. It’s the individuals in there who have either intimidated them or made them feel less safe and more likely to not cooperate with the police.”

Metro recently brought on Daniel Kelin to lead this initiative. Kelin’s specialty is data collection, and both Lumpkin and DeLoach said Kelin’s contributions are expected to be invaluable to the department.

Kelin previously worked as a counterterrorism specialist at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center in Philadelphia. Before that, he served in special operations forces for both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

His hire is an effort to solidify metro’s network of intelligence, especially the information gathered from community members willing to tell police what they know about crime.

Kelin said in the two weeks he’s been here, he’s has scoured different parts of the city, seeking the public’s opinions on crime and how the city and police department are responding to it.

He attended the City Council meeting that was attended by more than 100 people who marched in the memory of Waldrup.

“That touched me in a way that really motivated me to want to reach out to other members of the community,” he said.

Kelin said reaching out to the community is a part of building a crucial facet of intelligence gathering: a “human intelligence” network.

He said that by “making friends, building relationships, identifying motivations and figuring out how to empower people to take action,” he can help build up the trust between the department and Savannah residents.

“There was a lot of anger toward a variety of people — toward the police department, toward the city, toward the people that are responsible for going and shooting places up. There’s also a lot of sadness,” Kelin said. “It’s a beautiful city. It’s got a lot of heart and a lot of soul, and I think it deserves the chance to have a proactive role in helping to keep itself safe.”

Lumpkin said the process will take time, but it’s a step toward his goal of making Savannah the safest mid-size community in the country within five years.

“It’s not a turnkey process, but it can be done,” Lumpkin said. “It requires constant attention to detail, and it requires people in patrol looking at these intelligence led reports coming out every day, and changing their strategies depending on what needs to be done in order to prohibit the crimes.”

 

Looking forward

Last month, the Savannah City Council voted to hire about 150 additional officers to implement a seven-minute response time standard across the police department’s jurisdiction within three years — the most aggressive of three implementation phase-in options suggested by a consulting firm hired to study police operations.

Chatham County Commissioners have criticized the study by Berkshire Advisors, however, claiming it fell short of producing the kind of recommendations they had sought when they jointly funded the work with the city to develop an “evidence-based” funding formula. Chairman Al Scott has also questioned the need to hire the number of officers the department would require to have a seven-minute response time in areas of the unincorporated county, where criminal activity is low.

District 3 Alderman John Hall said the additional officers will help Savannah-Chatham police protect both residents and tourists.

“We’re going forward, with or without the county. We’re going to hire these additional officers, because we have an additional population without tourists,” Hall said. “We don’t have enough manpower to cover our residents and our tourists.”

District 4 Alderman Julian Miller touted city programs aimed at getting Savannah’s kids more involved in city-led youth initiatives, and driving down poverty by providing job training.

“We will never arrest our way out of this problem,” Miller said. ”It is not strictly a police problem, it is a society problem.”

Despite the shooting and subsequent fatal crash in the heart of Savannah, DeLoach said he still feels safe in the area.

“One death is too many, but we’re trying to drive it down as quick and as good as we can. But do I feel safe in Savannah? I feel safe in Savannah,” DeLoach said.

“I feel safe in downtown Savannah. I feel like I can walk anywhere downtown and feel OK.”

Fred 10 days ago
The mayor feels like Savannah is safer, already? I mean the year is only half way over thats too early to say that crime is down this year. I mean I understand that compared to the same time last year, the released crime stats show some decreases but I'm not impressed. Especially when I know that the information released regarding the crime stats are not as accurate as people they claim it to be. Reminds me of how reliable a polygraph reading is at convicting criminals in court. Thing is I know that not all murders and manslaughters are included in Savannahs murder rate. There were several suspicious deaths that were not ruled foul play, when there was all the evidence there screaming foul play. But who wants to run away the people who visit this city and make it rich? It's all logical lies, I get it. But Savannah is not safe. Criminals are being born and growing up to become more brazen and slicker thugsters every day. So combat the problem not its results is all I'm saying.
Mike Graham 9 days ago
I feel safe driving through downtown and my .45 is in easy reach.

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