On Sunday, Savannah-Chatham police officers responded to the scene of a shooting on the 600 block of Cape Street that left a 14-year-old male in critical condition.
The shooting, which police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said is gang related, occurred as city officials prepare to address End Gun Violence: Step Forward, the anti-violence initiative that was first implemented to reduce such incidents.
On Thursday, the Savannah City Council will consider spending $148,522 to renew the contract with the National Network for Safe Communities to continue the program that targets perpetrators of violence with a combination of incentives and punitive measures.
While the amount of violence remains at unacceptable levels, Lumpkin said crime in Savannah has started to trend downward during the last few months and the program is worth the investment. The network has the experience and resources needed to conduct intelligence-led policing that identifies perpetrators of crime and attempts to prevent further bloodshed, Lumpkin said.
“We make this priority list of the worst and go after them,” he said.
The initial $240,120 contract with National Network was approved by the previous council in November 2014, but implementation of the program did take place until August 2015 when the Network assisted in an “audit” to determine the individuals that warranted increased scrutiny.
A key component of the initiative is the “call-in” session, when Savannah-Chatham police, ex-offenders, community leaders and victims of violence try to convince selected group and gang members to lay down their guns and take advantage of job training and educational programs.
So far, about 30 individuals have attended the two “call-in” sessions that have been held since December. In addition, notifications were sent to other individuals in which police try to encourage gang or group members not to engage in any violent or retaliatory acts by warning the recipients they could face increased legal scrutiny.
The results have been mixed.
About 25 percent of the call-in attendees and notification recipients have taken advantage of the social services aspect of the program, while others have been arrested, according to police officials.As of Oct. 22, there have been 45 homicides this year - up by four compared to 2015 - while the number of shootings is down by 14 incidents.
Lumpkin said he believes the End Gun Violence initiative has had an impact, and that impact will increase over time as the department gets better at adapting the National Network’s strategies and processes.
“That’s a learning curve issue,” he said. “That’s an issue that culturally we weren’t there and as we learn we get better.”
Mayor Eddie DeLoach said the effectiveness of the program can not be determined in one year. Noting the high amount of vacancies the department had previously, the program has been “shortchanged” by not having enough officers on the streets, DeLoach said. The department is now expected to reach effective staffing levels in November, according to police officials.
“I think we will get the results we want long-term,” DeLoach said.
If the contract is approved, the National Network is expected to work with Savannah officials and community leaders through onsite and distance technical assistance to implement the violence reduction strategy, according to a staff report. Also, the consultant is supposed to help assemble an effective working partnership between the community and the Savannah-Chatham police.
Positions have also been created within the police department to implement the initiative.
Frederic Green was hired last spring as the program’s outreach coordinator and acts as a liaison between the community members under scrutiny and the social service providers available to help. Green joined Project Manager Maxine Bryant, who was hired in late 2015 to oversee the initiative in conjunction with the Savannah-Chatham police department.
The Salvation Army of Savannah is the nonprofit agency charged with coordinating the job training, counseling and other services for the program.
When the initiative was first being established, National Network Director David Kennedy said that in a city of Savannah's size, the impact typically equates to about a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in homicides within a couple of months. However, crucial to the initiative being a success is the community's willingness to be involved and adopt the process as standard operating procedure, Kennedy said.
Savannah Alderman Van Johnson said on Tuesday that he was not sure how effective the initiative has been and was not sure whether he would vote to extend the contract. The chief’s assessment of the program will weigh heavily on his decision, Johnson said.
“Obviously, it takes time for these initiatives to become ingrained in the community to work,” he said. “I guess I need to see some statistics.”