Thu., May 15, 2014 4:25pm (EDT)

Investigative Firm: No 'Endemic Culture Of Misconduct' in Savannah-Chatham Police Force
By Sarah McCammon
Updated: 3 months ago

SAVANNAH, Ga.  —  
The  Savannah-Chatham Police Department is working to replace former Chief Willie Lovett, who retired abruptly last year amidst allegations of misconduct in the department. Photo Credit: Sarah McCammon
The Savannah-Chatham Police Department is working to replace former Chief Willie Lovett, who retired abruptly last year amidst allegations of misconduct in the department. Photo Credit: Sarah McCammon
There’s no “endemic culture of misconduct” in Savannah’s police force, according to a review by a firm hired by the city.


Doug Rhoads of MDB International, LLC, presented the report to Savannah City Council members Thursday. Former Chief Willie Lovett abruptly retired last year in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and other misconduct in the department. A search for a new chief is underway.


Rhoads said the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department faced problems with members of its top brass, but is moving in the right direction under the leadership of interim Chief Julie Tolbert.


“They don’t hire folks like us to come in if it’s all good news, though,” Rhoads said.


MDB interviewed 30 to 40 police department staff, business leaders, and clergy. About 75 percent of the interviewees were department officers and staff.


Rhoads said a “common thread” emerged from the interviews – a sense of “an attitude of either indifference or interference” by police leaders. He said the Internal Affairs division was slow to respond to employee concerns and allegations of misconduct.


As a result, Rhoads said the force also has faced a high turnover rate, with about 100 employees in the 600-member department leaving each year.


While the department has appropriate policies for dealing with personnel concerns, Rhoads described a failure by top management to apply them. He recommends that the department implement exit interviews for employees who leave.


“I’ve reviewed the policies. It’s all there,” he said. “But policies are (meaningless) unless you follow them.”


Rhoads also recommends regular, scheduled audits of the police department’s finances.


Savannah Alderman John Hall asked Rhoads if all problematic leaders have been removed from the police department.


“I would like citizens of this city to know that we have rooted out all the people who’ve caused these problems,” Hall said.


Rhoads said he’s hesitant to assert that “all” problematic employees are gone. He said he believes the department has removed most, if not all, of the leaders responsible for creating a climate of mistrust.


Alderman Tony Thomas called attrition in the department a “huge problem.”


“We lost a lot of possibly good officers that loved doing their jobs here in Savannah,” Thomas said. He said the city and county should consider reaching out to officers who’ve left out of frustration and ask them to consider re-applying.


Savannah Mayor Edna Jackson called the report an “eye-opener,” and said she hopes the next chief will use the document as a guideline for leading the Savannah-Chatham police force.