Thursday, June 8, 2023

Chatham County’s Board of Commissioners at a budget workshop on May 31, 2023. Credit: Screenshot, Chatham County

Money priorities

We are nearing the end of budget season when officials finalize where your tax dollars will go for everything from police and courts to fire safety and dog catchers. This is one of the most important functions of county governments and directly impacts the lives of Coastal Georgia residents. Here are some public safety budget numbers that we have been watching: 

  • Over 60% of the kids coming through Chatham County Juvenile Court for delinquency “have some form of mental health diagnoses,” according to Juvenile Court Judge Tom Cole at a May 31 Chatham County Board of Commissioners budget hearing. Around 70% of those children are untreated, he said. Cole requested funding for an additional full time mental health clinician to help address those concerns and stop cycles of crime early on. County Manager Michael Kaigler initially responded to Cole’s request with no funding for a clinician, but his office has until July 1 to make a final decision.
  • $5.5 million is allocated in Liberty County’s proposed budget for its fire department, which has struggled with staffing and equipment amid rapid growth. It’s an increase of close to $1 million from the year before, with more funds to hire firefighters. But at a commission meeting on Tuesday evening, a county finance official disclosed the fire department is decreasing its requested number of firefighters due to several vacancies. The agency will instead have some of those positions start up in January 2024 instead of staying vacant. That saves the county about $200,000, according to the official.
  • $36,305.98 is in Glynn County’s upcoming budget to pay for a replacement police car that a Glynn County Sheriff’s deputy totaled during an April 14 pursuit. The chase started after a Georgia State Patrol trooper tried to pull over a car on I-95, but the driver didn’t stop. In late May, Sheriff Neal Jump made the request to commissioners for the new 2023 Dodge Charger. The number of chases by Glynn County Sheriff’s deputies has increased this year compared to last, according to the undersheriff.

Scott Ebner used to work as lieutenant colonel for the New Jersey State Police. He served in the agency from 1995 to 2022. He was hired in May 2023 to serve as Glynn County Police Department chief in addition to his role as public safety director. Credit: New Jersey State Police

Lawsuits linger

The long-troubled Glynn County Police Department now has its fifth police chief since 2018. Last week, county officials tapped Scott Ebner, the county’s public safety director since February, to lead the police department in addition to his current job. 

A review of court records shows that Ebner’s 27-year tenure at the New Jersey State Police led to accusations of gender discrimination against him and other leaders. He was in charge of promotions, at an agency long criticized for relying solely on supervisors’ opinion for promotions, rather than more objective measures like testing or an outside board. 

It resulted in female officers sidelined from senior roles and a culture of favoritism, according to the lawsuits.

When asked about this at a May 30 community forum, Ebner told residents the allegations don’t reflect his values: “I’m very proud of what I’ve done in my career, the people that I have promoted, the people who I have represented and who I surround myself with, that’s what I will continue to do here.”

Read the report by The Current’s Jake Shore for more details on the past allegations and how Ebner’s history and background played into other cities declining to hire him.

Shalena Cook Jones
Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones

In other news

  • Chatham County District Attorney’s office closes four officer-involved shooting cases (Savannah Morning News, June 6): Chatham County’s embattled district attorney Shalena Cook Jones quietly closed the cases of four police officer shootings without notifying the public. No prosecutions will be made against the officers. The cases included three shootings from 2022 and one from 2020. It did not include the controversial shooting of Saudi Arai Lee in Carver Village. “You do want to and need to be able to explain to the public how you reach that decision,” one professor told the SMN about best practices for prosecutors. Jones is up for re-election in 2024.
  • Carr: 16 Alleged Members of Outcast Motorcycle Gang Indicted in Bryan County (Georgia Attorney General, June 5): A Bryan County grand jury indicted over a dozen members of the Southeast Georgia Chapter of the Outcast Motorcycle Gang. The 13-month investigation that led to the indictment stemmed from a June 2022 armed robbery and shooting in Richmond Hill, according to the AG’s Office. The victims were six people associated with a rival motorcycle gang. Authorities then gathered evidence that allegedly showed “the existence of a conspiracy to violently assault members of the rival motorcycle club and to forcibly rob them of their motorcycle vests,” according to the AG.
  • The Murder Rate Is Suddenly Falling (The Atlantic, June 5): Preliminary crime data across U.S. cities shows a massive drop in murders compared to the same period last year. It follows a trend that The Current picked up on last week, reporting the drastic decline in murders in Savannah in 2023. The trend could flip with the second half of the year, but the first-half crime data is usually a good indicator of what is to come, according to Jeff Asher, a crime analyst writing in The Atlantic. “Murder is down about 12 percent year-to-date in more than 90 cities that have released data for 2023, compared with data as of the same date in 2022.” Check out the data here.

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New Glynn police chief’s past lawsuits linger

Ebner, 54, now Glynn County Police Department chief, has not been found liable in these past NJ cases. The allegations and his background played a role in two of five other municipalities where he has sought law enforcement jobs in the last year to drop him from contention.

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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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The Tide: Drastic decline in Savannah murder statistics

One homicide has been reported to the Savannah Police Department as of late May. During the same time last year, 16 murders had already been recorded by the city police department.

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Lawsuit alleging Glynn police chief hiring discrimination is dropped

Applicants for Glynn County Police Department chief in 2021 drop lawsuit alleging discrimination. They say the county has changed its hiring practices to be more fair.

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Glynn County got its first Black police chief last year. Why did he just resign?

Glynn County hired its first Black police chief after Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. He has now quit, saying he was tired of being ‘beaten up every day’ for trying to reform the force.

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Chatham DA: No charges for Savannah police officer who killed man at traffic stop

A local Savannah official, whose district the shooting occurred in, was shocked to find out the news of no charges against the officer: “we hire and fire people to protect and serve the community.”

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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...