– Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 –

Good morning. In today’s public safety newsletter, we’re looking at the work of advocates against human trafficking in Savannah, an impending deadline under a new Georgia school safety law and 911 emergency operators struggling with mental health and understaffing, as well as what can be done to help.

Questions, comments or story ideas? Email me at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com. Let’s dive in.

Event spotlights anti-trafficking work

Julie Wade, executive director of Tharros Place, speaks to attendees at a stakeholder lunch for advocacy against human trafficking in the Savannah region. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

When people think of “human trafficking,” they often think of the film Taken starring Liam Neeson, according to Susan Coppedge, executive director of Georgia Legal Services Program.

“But it’s not that. It’s not kidnapping,” Coppedge said at an anti-trafficking meeting in Savannah.“It’s that recruitment, that romancing, the threats. That’s what really happens in trafficking.”

Coppedge, a former prosecutor who focused on trafficking cases as well as a U.S. State Department ambassador overseeing global efforts to reduce human trafficking, said all forms of trafficking, including lesser known ones like forced labor, debt bondage, and domestic servitude, leave child and adult victims with few options.

The Wednesday stakeholders’ meeting at Savannah Technical College was put on by Tharros Place, an upcoming residential shelter for survivors of human trafficking. The shelter is under construction in Pooler and the facility will soon begin the process of seeking state licensing, according to Julie Wade, the organization’s director. 

In Coppedge’s keynote speech, she highlighted how one of Georgia’s biggest avenues for trafficking is farm labor. She said rural workers in South Georgia, usually on onion farms, are often exploited for their work. Farms create unique circumstances for exploitation through the physical isolation of a rural area and fewer regulations for workers due to years of industry lobbying. Wages can be withheld, deplorable living conditions instituted, and travel documents confiscated, she said.

You can find information about Tharros Place here.

And read more about the federal investigation into South Georgia labor trafficking. 

Drills to protect Georgia students

Chatham County School Buses.
Chatham County school bus Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

As school shootings increase every year nationwide, all Georgia public schools have a week-and-a-half left to conduct intruder drills, which were made mandatory by a law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in the spring. 

The Oct. 1 deadline for intruder drills was part of the Safe Schools Act, HB 147, which defines them as plans meant to “familiarize the occupants of a building with ways to protect themselves against potential threats posed by an intruder who possesses  or is suspected of possessing a weapon.”

Schools in Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden counties are on track to have their drills completed, according to Kate Hargrove with Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security. Hargrove said she could not specify which schools were still outstanding and which were finished for “security reasons.”

Some recommended procedures by GEMA/HS include:

  • Consider granting authority to front office staff to order a lockdown without first receiving permission from the principal.
  • Keep all exterior doors locked, channel all access through the main entrance, and institute routine checks to be sure outer doors are secure.
  • Monitor the location of the intruder or suspicious person with surveillance cameras, monitors, and walkie-talkies to communicate with law enforcement.

There have been 245 school shooting incidents in the U.S. so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. The data is very inclusive and means all instances when a gun is fired, brandished, or a bullet hits school property.

How to fight 911 operator burnout

911 dispatcher in Fort McCoy, Wis. Credit: U.S. Army, Creative Commons

Just as essential as traditional public safety roles, like police and firefighters, are the workers who hold them together and support their operations — 911 call-takers and dispatchers.

With call volume rising and understaffing soaring, 911 emergency center employees are burning out.

A July survey of 911 center call-takers, dispatchers, and managers found that 82% of the more than 800 respondents said their centers were understaffed. Three-quarters reported staff burnout and 56% reported work-related anxiety. Studies say forced overtime and exposure to trauma amplify these trends.

What can be done? States are continuing to build out the 988 mental health crisis line to take the burden of lengthy mental health calls off of 911 call center workers.

Industry leaders and advocates have been seeking expanded mental health resources for 911 call-takers and dispatchers, in addition to more recognition from public safety peers. The Department of Labor currently classifies “telecommunicators” who take 911 calls as positions akin to secretarial or clerical work. Advocates have sought to treat 911 operators as public safety workers — and receive all the benefits that come with that.

Read more from the investigation reported by MindSite News, a nonprofit focused on mental health news coverage.

911 call-takers are demoralized, overwhelmed and dealing with their own mental health woes

911 call dispatchers feel demoralized and overworked. Plus, poor training on mental health crises and inconsistent dispatch codes may contribute to a violent police response.

Continue reading…

Rural Georgians dial 988 at higher rates; calls increase 12% overall

The state agency responsible for the crisis call center was dealt a setback earlier this month when Gov. Brian Kemp rejected a $2.3 million funding increase for additional support to manage the ongoing rollout. Kemp also nixed extra salary bumps for mental health professionals.

Continue reading…

Governor’s priority school safety training bill passes Georgia House despite gun safety concerns

sets up a school safety and anti-gang training program for educators, encourages colleges and universities that train teachers to include safety and gang lessons in their lesson plans, requires schools to submit their safety plans to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and requires all schools to hold an annual intruder alert drill.

Continue reading…

Students say SCAD mental health services fall short

Some experts believe that mood disorders are more prevalent among creatives. Students at Savannah College of Art and Design say the resources may not meet their needs.

Continue reading…

Georgia behavioral health officials push for more workers and beds as people languish in jail

Proposals from the board include $9.5 million for a new behavioral health crisis center in north Georgia, $15 million in one-time funding for crisis center staff wages, and $10 million to boost the salaries of forensic psychologists and others, as outlined in the workforce study.

Continue reading…

Support independent, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Email him at jake.shore@thecurrentga.org Prior to joining The Current,...