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April 18 – EDITORIAL: End Gun Violence is a Police and City Program That Needs Attention

EDITORIAL

April 18 2018 –  A local daily news organization recently urged District Attorney Meg Heap to move quickly to replace the Rev. George Lee, Director of the Savannah Police Department's 'End Gun Violence' program, who resigned on April 6 after an internal investigation into his February 2018 alleged drunk driving arrest. 

Someone at that media company is either not informed, or lacks context about both the program AND the history of how the Rev. Lee got the job.

The End Gun Violence program was developing nationally by metro police departments, to work to reduce the patterns of repeat offenders, with an emphasis on reducing gang activity.

It is a police department, cop-on-the-beat, community-policing approach where those who have been recently released from jail are brought together, as part of their parole process, along with their family members, girl friends and ‘known associates.’ 

The message to them by the Police Chief, the Police Captains and local Officers in their neighborhood is clear:  we’re watching you.  The message to their loved ones is also clear:  if you don’t help them straighten out their lives, get a job, and change their friends ... they will be back in jail ... or dead.  The statistics are against them to repeat.

The End Gun Violence program also offers a helping hand, connecting those getting out of jail with training programs and other assistance to break the cycle of poverty and crime.   

It has nothing to do with the role of a District Attorney’s office that prosecutes cases brought to them by local law enforcement agencies.

But, because former Police Chief Jack Lumpkin flat out refused to hire the Rev. Lee, yet his employment was forced onto the City and County by Mayor Eddie DeLoach for reasons that are still not clear, Lee was hired and got put the management of DA Heap. 

And, because City Manager Rob Hernandez said that the City of Savannah would not hire him due to his driving record and other issues, Lee became a County employee, but with the city paying the bill. 

In fact, Hernandez has been sitting on over $44,000 in unpaid invoices, money due to the County, according to Alderman Tony Thomas, who has launched an investigation in a myriad of issues in this inexplicable situation. 

The Rev. Lee’s departure provides an opportunity for the new police chief to hire a leader of his choice, and make the new director a city employee. The City Council had already decided to continue the program, and funded the position in the current 2018 budget, though sources state that Hernandez does not favor continuing the program.  

That's a concern.  Chief Lumpkin, who may have quit over the situation forced on him by Mayor DeLoach, strongly supported the program, and credited it as on of the tools being employed to break up gangs and solve crimes.  All agree that the program was increasing the relationships between local detectives and police officers with those who are known to be criminally active – and their families.  In fact, we've seen a dramatic increase in the rate and pace of solving murders this year. 

Heap has no power or authority to hire a replacement unless the County Commissioners make the decision to run the program on their own.  

Heap’s office has been under contract to run the program for the City, but that only came about because of a threatened lawsuit by Lee's attorney, after he states that Mayor DeLoach made a verbal commitment to make sure Lee got the job.

Further, the City budget has the program funded for all of 2018.  Why not name a Director, and get back on target, since the Rev. Lee was put on administrative leave back in February, and one can assume that there’s been little activity for the past 60 days?  

As Alderman Thomas has written City Manager Hernandez this week, “What assurances will city council have that another crony is not placed in this position that can't pass a background test?”

The solution is to leave police work to the Police Chief, and select a new citizen and law enforcement panel to choose a new director, get focused, and hire someone with the professional credentials and ‘street cred’ to be effective.

And this time ... listen to their advice. 

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