– Thursday, September 7, 2023 –

Good morning. In this week’s public safety newsletter, we look beyond policing and the courts at other essential systems — how Georgia is seeking to open new mental health facilities, updates on animal control issues in Camden County and why the Savannah region is getting another fire department.

You can reach me for questions, comments or story ideas at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com.

More funding for Georgia mental health

Kevin Tanner, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, presents his budget proposal to the agency’s board during a hybrid meeting held Thursday. Credit: Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

As our country has learned more about mental health and its intersection with crime — an issue made unavoidable by a global pandemic — Georgia legislators made a substantial investment last year in the form of the Mental Health Parity Act. 

Now the real work begins. Last week, Georgia mental health officials presented the results from two studies about what needs fixing in the state’s mental health infrastructure to meet current demands.

By 2025 the state will need five more behavioral health centers, 120 additional state hospital beds for those in the criminal justice system and increased workforce to fully utilize existing facilities. 

In Coastal Georgia, there was less of a need for new crisis centers, unlike other parts of the state. But if the country’s new 988 program creates significant demand for services in Georgia, that could change, according to one study. 

Officials also asked for about $3 million in funding for a renovation project at the Georgia Regional Hospital-Savannah, which includes a transition program for people to receive vocational training and live once they find a job. 

Read more from the findings here.

Progress for Camden animal issues

Solo (left) and Banzai (right) are both adoptable pets in Camden County, GA, which lost its contract with its animal shelter provider in July. The county is working to fill the void.

Camden County has been without a contracted animal shelter provider since the start of July, after a dispute led its provider, the Humane Society of Camden County, to not renew its agreement and instead become a no-kill shelter. In the aftermath, the county was unable to transport or keep lost, sick or injured animals. 

County leaders are trying to find a new way forward. At a meeting on Tuesday, county commissioners approved a one-year pilot program to capture, spay and neuter, and then release community cats. Commissioners also heard a presentation from Cameron Moore, a consultant with the University of Florida, Shelter Medicine Program, who is advising the county as it works to fill the void left by HSCC. 

Moore said the traditional shelter system is inefficient, causing overcrowding and unnecessary deaths. In both 2021 and 2022, around 40% of cats and dogs taken in by the county were euthanized. Most of the euthanizations involved cats. 

Moore urged commissioners to consider a new shelter system that focuses resources on reuniting lost pets with owners, microchipping and spaying and neutering. 

Read our reporting from July on the dispute that led the animal shelter provider to drop out.

And yes, here’s the link for adoptable pets in Camden.

Programming note: In an update to Wednesday’s Coast Watch newsletter, we received new information on the proposed Hog Hammock rezoning. The Sapelo Island ferry schedule will be adjusted today, Monday and Tuesday to accommodate island residents attending the scheduled zoning hearing and county commission meetings related to Hog Hammock. The last ferry typically departs Meridian at 5:30 p.m. for Sapelo, but will be delayed until the end of the meetings on those days, the Department of Natural Resources announced.

‘Put on our big boy shoes’

Firefighter gear Credit: Unsplash / Matt C.

Chatham County is getting its own fire department after disputes over funding with the county’s private provider, Chatham Emergency Services, Savannah Agenda’s Eric Curl reports.

On Aug. 25, the county approved a resolution to establish a county fire department and commissioned a transition plan from CES to the new fire agency. The new fire department would cover the unincorporated parts of the county, like CES did.

“We are looking towards the future in taking the safety of our constituents and our citizens very, very seriously,” Commissioner Aaron “Adot” Whitely said. “We are the fifth largest county in the state and I think it’s time we put on our big boy shoes and take on fire service in a more meaningful way.”

The county will obtain an estimate cost for equipment, land, budget and staffing for the new agency. They will be hiring at a time when agencies are struggling to fill public safety positions.

Read more of Curl’s reporting here.

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…

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.

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Who benefitted from doomed Spaceport Camden?

At least 30 lawyers and a million dollars on wooing the public and governments.

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Lawmakers want less gendered language in the law

Sponsors say bill sends an important message about the role that language plays in governance and the law, especially in a climate where state lawmakers have been increasingly restricting rights for various groups.

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Development continues as Liberty County fire protection lags 

Liberty County officials have pushed for warehouse development while its fire department lacks key equipment and safety standards. A historic home fire in November displayed the glaring deficiencies at the fire department.

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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...