Should Savannah have more police officers enforcing drug laws?

Short answer: yes.

Savannah City Council is having a workshop tomorrow (Monday) about Chief Willie Lovett’s request to expand the number of drug officers pretty dramatically. So I wanted to go ahead and chime in here — mainly with ideas that I’ve been repeating ad nauseum for years.

From Lesley Conn’s Savannah ready to fund drug unit:

Police Chief Willie Lovett says the department has already begun recruiting for its Jan. 7 class with an eye toward developing a drug unit.

“I’m going to go ahead as if council has approved (the positions),” he said. “In the event that they do, I want to be prepared. Drugs are a problem in this community. I feel very strongly that if we get rid of some of the drugs and the causes, we’ll have a much better city and county.”

Lovett didn’t want just 30 officers. In budget requests given to the city manager’s office, he and his command staff asked for 69 new positions, including more Juvenile officers and investigators.

The request seemed to stun City Council members and City Hall staffers alike, but it isn’t the first time a similar idea has been proposed.

In December 2008, then-Chief Michael Berkow estimated his department needed 100 officers.

I don’t know the best way to pay for the added officers, and I don’t know how this will work given the existence of the CNT (Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team funded by Chatham County).

But I’ve long been critical of our drug enforcement strategies, which seem more aimed at managing the problem rather than eradicating it.

I walk around my immediate neighborhood at all hours of the day and night, but I wouldn’t do that a mere three blocks away on Jefferson Street. For whatever reasons, Savannahians have collectively decided — for decades — to allow street-level drug and prostitution activity to dominate the Jefferson Street corridor. When I moved here in the mid-1990s, the activity regularly reached all the way to Liberty Street, but now it’s pretty much confined to the stretch between Anderson and Victory.

But the activity radiates throughout the surrounding neighborhoods and along streets like Montgomery, which certainly have some worrisome pockets of their own.

Given my druthers, I’d probably opt for limited legalization of certain vices like drug use and prostitution, but those are crimes right now. The people selling are criminals — and the people who are buying are criminals.

We do not have to stand for the same criminal activity on the same streets year after year after year.