– June 29, 2023 –

Good morning and welcome to Thursday.

In this week’s public safety newsletter: a plan to revamp training at Glynn’s police department, new statistics on crime in Savannah and an anti-gang law going into effect this weekend.

Questions, comments or story ideas? Reach out to thecurrentga@gmail.com. Let’s dive in.

Search incident highlights training problems

Glynn County Interim Police Chief O’Neal Jackson III (L) speaks with county residents at a meet-and-greet for his permanent replacement, Scott Ebner (R), at the Brunswick Library, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Credit: Craig Nelson/The Current

Glynn County’s police chief Scott Ebner, who was sworn in last week, starts his new job at a challenging moment: The county is experiencing a spike in violence while the department is short on police officers.

It’s not the only test he faces. Ebner pledged to revamp officer training after a rookie Glynn cop performed an invasive, roadside body search of an accused shoplifter earlier this year. None of the officers — including the police chief at the time — knew that department rules mandated medical professionals do those searches, not officers.

“It’s one thing to create a policy, it’s another thing to continually evolve and train to that policy,” Ebner said.

Read more here about what Ebner plans to do and what issues the Feb. 14 body search revealed.

Savannah crime, by the numbers

Reported crime statistics from Savannah Police Department as of June 24, 2023.

Are you curious about the footprint of crime in Savannah? The Current’s data reporter Maggie Lee has been collecting statistics of reported violent and nonviolent crime from the Savannah Police Department since April and visualized that data as of June 24 (most recent date available).

SPD reported four homicides as of last week. Three occurred in June and one occurred in March. It is 75% less than the amount of killings during the same period last year — but still a clear summer uptick.

Some minor thefts, like shoplifting and theft from vehicles, are up slightly too.

Check out the data for yourself.

Gang law’s effect on jail and bail

Chatham County Detention Center Credit: Chatham County Sheriff's Office website

One big ticket item from this year’s legislative session: a law increasing minimum penalties for those accused of gang recruitment.

Now that law, which amended the “Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act,” goes into effect on Saturday, July 1. After it passed the Senate, Georgia House Republicans amended the popular gang bill to add in a policy priority that didn’t make the cut this year — jail and bail.

With the law in effect, Georgia judges will be required to consider criminal history before allowing no-cash bail and are restricted from providing bond for people convicted of missing court.

What does this mean? Judges will have to issue bonds that require money in order to be released from jail if a person missed court in the past and makes it more likely people will have to pay to leave if they have a criminal history. It’s something social justice advocates say limits judge’s discretion to show compassion, but GA Republicans say is simply about public safety.

Read more about the law going into effect.

Glynn police roadside invasive body search highlights training issues

New Glynn County Police Chief Scott Ebner says he will prioritize training on policies, after February body cavity search of an alleged shoplifter violated department rules.

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Data dive: How Savannah measures crime

Crime is a part of life in Savannah. But just how bad is it? The Current breaks down police data about safety in Georgia’s first city.

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Gang crackdown, other legislation takes effect July 1

Law requires judges to impose prison sentences of at least five years on those convicted of recruiting gang members. It also mandates tougher penalties for recruiting to a gang anyone under age 17 or with a disability, requiring at least a 10-year sentence.

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As trial approaches, indicted former Glynn County police chief’s history shows controversies

When John Powell took over in 2018 as Glynn County police chief, officials hoped he’d work to build community trust. Now he faces trial on charges stemming from an out-of-control narcotics unit.

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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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Chatham sheriff resumes jailing for misdemeanor crimes in return to pre-Covid policy

Chatham County jail reverses Covid policy where low-level misdemeanor offenders were turned away, now jailing for misdemeanor crimes.

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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...