For a city continuously racked by sky-high crime rates (especially violent crimes), the last thing Savannah needed was a police chief with serious “baggage” to further sidetrack day-to-day crime fighting.
But that is exactly what the Savannah-Chatham Police Department got in Michael Berkow – a man who was supposed to be a “superstar” from the LAPD with a very impressive record and a great deal of experience. Berkow brought with him a lawsuit and a host of distractions.
This is a city that appreciates a good scandal (it was the setting for “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” John Berendt’s bestselling account of a 1981 society slaying), but Berkow’s problems are causing more headaches than titillation. Most of all, this is a city that wants a chief with full focus on its violent crime.
“I was really excited — his resume seemed really good,” said Gary Hall, 50, the owner of a cafe in the city’s historic district. “Now look at all of his problems.”
“We have great expectations for what this chief can do for us,” said R.E. Abolt, the Chatham County manager. “But there’s this passion not to lose focus. The rest of this seems almost like a sideshow.”
In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles and reported last month, a female LAPD officer accused Berkow of promoting women who had sex with him, an allegation Berkow’s lawyer says is baseless. In a recently unsealed deposition, Berkow revealed he had a three-year affair with a female sergeant in his division, but Berkow has maintained that it was not a breach of professional standards.
It appears the “good-ole boy system” may finally be biting Savannah in the butt. For years, the department’s leadership was determined by contacts rather than credentials. I hope this turns into a full-blown disaster that causes a serious overhaul within the Savannah-Chatham Police Department.
Maybe then the city can finally get the exorbitant crime rates under control.
It would be a start, anyway.