August 25, 2022

police blue lights
Credit: Alexandre Debieve/Unsplash

Gaps in reporting Coastal Georgia crime data

Residents of Coastal Georgia worry that crime is rising. But metrics to track public safety challenges will be hard to come by in our area.

Nearly 40% of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies – including several locally – did not send in crime statistics to the FBI’s national data collection system last year. 

Among those not reporting are Chatham County’s two largest agencies: the Savannah Police Department and Chatham County Police Department, while smaller departments like Pooler and Tybee Island did submit data to the FBI in 2021. 

The massive gap in data is creating fears of unreliable data on national crime trends for years to come, according to The Marshall Project

“It’s going to be really hard for policymakers to look at what crime looks like in their own community and compare it to similar communities,” a criminologist told the news outlet.

Part of the problem is the FBI announced in 2015 it would be retiring its data collection system in 2021. It is replacing the system with one that counts more modern types of crimes, like cyberstalking, and collects the race and age of victims, among other things. 

Savannah Police spokesperson Bianca Johnson said her agency submitted every year prior to the FBI’s switch.

“Our current Records Management System is extremely old and is not equipped to make the switch to the new reporting system,” Johnson said. “We are currently in the process of getting a new Records Management System, but until that occurs we will not be able to make the switch.”

Johnson did not have a timeline for the replacement.

Chatham County Police spokesperson Betsy Nolen said the county’s current records system is also not compatible with the FBI’s new data collection program. Nolen said, like Savannah, county police are in the process of converting to a new records system and are estimated to be switched over by spring 2023. 

Switching records systems may not have been a priority for most police departments in 2020, according to the Marshall Project, amid COVID-19, calls for reform after the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, nationwide officer shortages, and a rise in violent crime. 

Here is how other Coastal Georgia agencies fared with submitting crime data to the FBI: 

  • Garden City Police Department: fully reported
  • Bloomingdale Police Department: fully reported
  • Pooler Police Department: fully reported
  • Tybee Police Department: fully reported
  • Liberty County Sheriff’s Office: 2 months of data
  • Hinesville Police Department: 1 month of data
  • Glynn County Police Department: 11 months of data
  • Glynn County Sheriff’s Office: fully reported
  • Brunswick Police Department: did not report
  • Camden County Sheriff’s Office: 3 months of data
  • McIntosh Sheriff’s Office: did not report
  • Richmond Hill Police Department: fully reported
  • Bryan County Sheriff’s Office: fully reported
  • Kingsland Police Department: fully reported

Greg McMichael, center, and his son, Travis McMichael, left, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021,. Credit: AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool

The importance of asking questions

Last week, The Current reviewed jail records in Glynn County and wondered why the men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery were still in the county jail, after being sentenced for the final time earlier this month.

On Aug. 8 the three Glynn County men were given hefty sentences for the hate crimes conviction secured by federal prosecutors. That comes after each had been sentenced to life in prison by state prosecutors last year.

As of last Friday, Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan had not yet been transferred to the Georgia state prison system — an outcome which the McMichaels fought to the very end.

On Friday, Editor in Chief Margaret Coker reached out to the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office (which runs the jail) and the Georgia Department of Corrections.

On Monday, she received an answer from Glynn County.

The Sheriff’s Office told her it was a bureaucratic issue: the agency was waiting on paperwork to transfer the men.

At around 2 p.m. Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Office sent out a press release stating it had transferred custody of the McMichaels and Bryan to the state to begin their life sentences. They now are at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Ga.

Read our story for context on what that means.

Savannah Police Department
Savannah Police Department Central Precinct Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Have your say in search for a new police chief

Savannah officials say they are seeking to hire a new city police chief before the end of the year and want to conduct the search with community input.

An “emergency procurement” document on the agenda for Thursday’s city council meeting seeks approval for $45,000 for a search firm that would move quickly to fill the position by the end of 2022, rather than 2023.

Whoever accepts the position will take the reins of a police department beleaguered by short staffing and low morale. The new prospective chief will have to institute policies to right those issues.

The final decision about who will become Savannah’s top cop rests with City Manager Jay Melder.

The city, for its part, has released a survey for citizens to detail their priorities for the city’s next chief and will produce a report that will “be used to formulate the search criteria for our next chief,” a press release stated.

The six question survey, which sunsets on Sept. 23, can be found at the following link:

It asks for input on the qualities of a chief: one who has a track record on diversity, shows leadership on innovation, is willing to hold themselves accountable, or focus on police reform.

It also gives the survey-taker a chance to submit a question that they would want asked in the interview process.

Have a comment, story idea, or a question? Email me at

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...