Editor's Note: Policing the police 

WORDS ARE funny things. You can describe the same event in different ways, so that it seems like two separate incidents. Yet both descriptions can be perfectly accurate.

For instance, you could say former Savannah/Chatham Police Chief Willie Lovett abruptly left the force amid sexual harassment allegations, and leave it at that.

Or you could say Lovett abruptly left the force amid allegations of a bizarre set of overlapping sex triangles involving multiple married officers, several incidents of domestic violence, and the alleged literal pimping out of a married female officer to Lovett by one of Lovett's captains, all in front of the backdrop of a federal investigation into narcotics-associated corruption on the force which was possibly covered up.

Pick your poison.

I'm not on a moralistic soapbox here. No one can judge a marriage except the two people in that marriage. I'm a big fan of Bill and Hillary Clinton, if that tells you anything.

And to be clear: Lovett wasn't the only Savannah police chief in recent times to possibly have a very, um, interesting romantic life around our debauched little town.

Also to be clear: I supported Lovett's promotion to chief, and the one time as a citizen that I asked him to do something about a crime issue — before his promotion — I got immediate, satisfactory results.

This story has to do with departmental integrity, oversight, the lack thereof, and the compound effect on the majority of hard-working rank-and-file officers at the street level who are eager to protect and serve us.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap, who came into office with a broad reform mandate, says — and the U.S. District Attorney concurs — she'll refuse to prosecute any cases involving two Savannah officers, Malik Khaalis and Willet Williams, due to "credibility concerns" in the wake of a narcotics investigation.

In other words, if Khaalis and Williams were anywhere near their client, a defense attorney could get an immediate dismissal of charges by merely invoking the officers' names as being associated with the case.

That's a very bad sign.

And that situation, not who is sleeping with whom, goes more directly to the core of the problem with the Savannah police.

In a now-familiar turn of events, we have an "interim" chief promoted from within, Major Julie Tolbert, who is on record saying she's not interested in the job permanently. This seems to be the go-to line for every "interim" manager in city and county government these days.

Invariably, these humble wallflowers all conveniently forget to take their name out of the hat when it comes time to winnow down that list of finalists for the job (see Cutter, Stephanie).

Look, I'm all for people knowing what they want. It's surely no crime to say you desire and deserve a promotion and to go for it. It's the American way.

But our police department needs a major cleaning from the top down, no pun intended. Unfortunately, one of the most qualified and dedicated upper-level officers, Major Mike Wilkins, also abruptly left the force after Lovett's departure — not in shame or amid allegations, but apparently to get out while the getting is good.

That, too, is a very bad sign.

Not to keep revisiting the recent debacle over the firing of Film Services Director Jay Self, but I'm struck by how differently that situation went down versus Lovett's departure and the subsequent shake-up at Savannah Metro PD.

Self was unceremoniously fired almost out of the blue, with a token dog-and-pony show of an appeal hearing.

No "thanks for your years of service," no "we wish Jay well in the next step of his journey." Boom, outta here.

Lovett, however, will get full retirement pay, which FYI after 40 years on the force could easily be more than you and I make in a year working full-time.

Meanwhile, Chief Tolbert has suspended Khaalis and Williams — which had to happen — but with pay.

The captain who is accused of procuring the married female officer's cell number for Lovett? Also suspended with pay.

You might say that's just protocol. But words are funny things. You might also call suspension with pay a "vacation."

Criminals, meanwhile, don't take vacations. Whatever decisions are made about the future leadership of the Savannah Metro Police Department need to take that fact into account, first and foremost.


About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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