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Police Merger

Why did it take forever to agree on a City-County SCMPD Agreement?

SCMPD BadgeThe City and County voted to combine their separate Police Departments in 2003, which was followed in 2005 by the functional merger of the separate departments into Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police. The driving motivations behind the merger:

  • Shared criminal investigations enhances crime-solving capabilities and better utilizes data to target criminal behavior
  • Criminals do not pay attention to jurisdictional lines, so neither should Police.
  • Police Patrol Beats can ignore jurisdictional lines and be better drawn to conform with geographic and neighborhood realities.
  • The Police Department will have more resources to bring to bear during major events.
  • Eliminates jurisdictional confusion, particularly in the neighborhoods on the growing west side of Chatham County.
  • Efficiencies gained with combined support services, and enhanced purchasing power.
  • Overcome the Chatham County Police Department’s challenges of providing timely backup and support given its large geographic territory from the islands to the Effingham line.

Since the merger, Part 1 Crime across the SCMPD jurisdiction has dropped nearly 30%, and the department’s clearance rate – the percentage of crimes solved – has gone from consistently below the national average to above the national average each of the past five years. (Note: As of Sept. 19, 2015, Part 1 crime was up 10% YTD compared with same period 2014).

In 2014, the City and County managers began meeting on a regular basis to create a new SCMPD Intergovernmental Agreement, as was called for in the original agreement. Through this comprehensive process, an entire new document was created. SCMPD is a major, $70 million operation with more than 800 employees. City and County leaders had significant debate on many of the details.

Cost was a major factor. The allocation formula of the original agreement divided the major functions of SCMPD into cost centers. For some of those cost centers, such as investigations and administrative functions such as the Chief’s Office, each side paid according to its population. For the Patrol cost center, which comprises the major of the overall budget, costs were divided according to how many patrol beats were assigned to the City vs the County. Other centers were paid either 100 percent by the City or the County. (Read tons of details about all this HERE)

When you add it up, the City last year was budgeted to pay 67 percent ($43 million) of Police, the County’s Special Service District -- funded solely by unincorporated residents --  was budgeted to pay 25 percent ($15.8 million) of Police, and the County’s M&O – funded by all residents in Chatham County, including City residents --   was scheduled to pay the remaining 8 percent ($5.1 million) of the budget.

That means that City of Savannah taxpayers paid $328 per capita for Police services, while taxpayers living in unincorporated Chatham County paid $190 per capita for Police services last year.

This heavier burden on City residents was a recognition that there is a higher demand for Police services in the more urbanized City limits.  During negotiations, City Manager Stephanie Cutter was resistant to major changes that put a much greater financial burden on City taxpayers, who were already funding 71 percent of the total Police budget (including City residents' contributions to the County M&O tax), even though they comprise just 61 percent of the population within the SCMPD jurisdiction.   

In May 2015, the City and County managers jointly developed a framework, later approved by both elected bodies, which provided a detailed outline for a new agreement, and established a two-year period during which an independent expert would gather critical data upon which a new cost allocation formula would be based. Read the agreement HERE.

That framework was used to develop a detailed intergovernmental agreement, which City Council approved August 20. Read the draft agreement HERE. Chatham County Commission on September 11 approved a version of the agreement with revisions, which is currently under review by City leaders.