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Report shows Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport police illegally used radar guns

A sign welcoming visitors at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (Savannah Morning News file photo)

Drivers traveling on roadways near Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport may be used to seeing police officers standing on the roadway clocking cars to deter speeding.

 

But one agency they won’t see out with radar guns in the near future is the airport police department after an investigation revealed that the agency does not have the authority to operate speed detection devices.


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The Georgia Department of Public Safety launched an investigation in May 2016 after a complaint was filed that the airport police department was operating speed detection devices without a DPS-issued permit, according to an investigative report.

The complaint also alleged that 35 mph signs were improperly posted along Gulfstream Drive between Ida J. Gadsden Drive and Ga. 21. Nine signs were cited in the report, five eastbound and four westbound. The correct speed limit for that area as listed on Savannah-Chatham police’s list of roadways is 45 mph.

Under state law, the airport police department does not qualify for a DPS-issued permit for speed detectors. SDD “can only be operated by registered or certified peace officers of the county sheriff, county, municipality, college, or university to which the permit is applicable,” according to Georgia Code 40-14-2.

The Savannah-Chatham police department is eligible for speed control along that route, however. Airport police officials claimed to have an agreement with the police department to share metro’s SDD permit. The investigative report states that Airport Police Chief Wofford Wilkins and Airport Police Captain Darrell Dodge acknowledged operating SDD by “piggybacking” off metro’s permit.

But Savannah-Chatham police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said in an emailed statement that no such agreement exists.

“The Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department does not have a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Authority Police Department that allows them to utilize Speed Detection Devices,” he wrote. “The SCMPD acquired the authority to use Speed Detection Devices from the Georgia Department of Public Safety. The Georgia Department of Public Safety is the only agency which can grant the authority for an agency to use Speed Detection Devices.”

And while the state’s investigation started in May 2016, internal emails dated April 14, 2016, between DPS employees show the issue came into question long before the formal investigation began.

In an April 2016 email, Angie Holt with the Office of Professional Standards wrote that she spoke with the chief of airport police “about a year ago” and that he was “informed his department needed a separate permit.”

It’s unclear how long the airport police department was unlawfully using speed detection devices.

Airport Executive Director Greg Kelly said he apologized for the confusion.

“It has been our understanding that since the airport is in the City of Savannah and our roads are included in the City of Savannah List of Roads, that we fell under the City permit,” he said in an emailed statement. “We were wrong and I take full responsibility for that as Director.”

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