A recent spate of officer-involved shootings in Savannah has prompted city officials to conduct a review of police procedures.
Four such shootings have occurred in Savannah this year — all within the last two months — with the most recent one on Sunday in the city’s busy downtown Historic District. By comparison, all of 2021 saw five officer-involved shootings in Savannah, two of which occurred in the final two weeks of the year.
“Obviously, this is new to us,” Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said of the uptick, during his weekly media briefing on Tuesday. “This is absolutely unusual. I cannot remember in my time here having this many incidents that occur.”
Johnson, who took office at the beginning of 2020, said that Savannah City Manager Joseph “Jay” Melder and Savannah Police Chief Roy Minter have committed to taking a “hard look” at police procedures, training, and support “to make sure that this is just an anomaly and it’s not representative of anything systemic.”
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, 37 officer-involved shootings have occurred in Georgia this year as of this article’s publication, 18 of which resulted in a civilian death. No officer deaths were reported, but six officers sustained injuries. 2021 saw 100 officer-involved shootings in the state.
Savannah’s most recent officer-involved shooting occurred early Sunday morning near the corner of Abercorn and Bay Streets. According to the GBI, officers attempted to de-escalate a fight at around 4 a.m. between two men in the area, one of whom was “talking irrationally” and carrying a makeshift weapon.
The man swung his weapon at an officer, according to the GBI, after which officers unsuccessfully deployed a taser. Once the man attacked an officer with the weapon, another officer fatally shot the man, who was later identified as David Paul Dixon, 36, of Jackson, Louisiana.
“We will support our police officers to act within the law, to defend themselves within the law…and we hope that officers act at all times within that standard,” Johnson said. “We have among the best-trained officers, where hopefully these situations become muscle memory.”
In a recent public Facebook post, Savannah Alderman Kurtis Purtee echoed the mayor’s high praise for the city’s police officers, while also bemoaning what he described as organizational deficiencies.
“To see the morale of these officers dwindling is sad and just plain preventable,” wrote Purtee, who is also a police captain with the Georgia Southern University Department of Public Safety. “When the morale is down, there is a problem. It impacts the [community] as well as crime. It’s one thing to practice the fundamentals of community policing, but it’s another to effectively and efficiently manage the staff that helps bring the community together to solve crime.
“Change in attitude starts with a change of leadership,” Purtee went on to write. “I have been a public servant for 21 years. I support our police officers and I support accountability. I cannot and refuse to sit by silently while I see droves of officers leaving the department.”
In response to GPB’s request for comment on Purtee’s remarks, the Savannah Police Department issued this written statement: “SPD does not provide commentary on personal opinions or statements made by elected officials. It is important, however, to clarify that there is no indication that any of SPD’s recent officer-involved shootings are a result of staffing, training or department personnel matters, as has been implied by some officials recently. The GBI is investigating all of these cases, which all involved incidents where an officer was confronted by what appeared to be a potentially deadly threat and the officer took action to neutralize that threat.”
Of Savannah’s four officer-involved shootings this year, three resulted in a civilian death — the same as last year’s total, according to GBI statistics. No SPD officers were killed or injured during officer-involved shootings in either 2022 or 2021.
This story comes to The Current GA through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.