Oct 2, 11:47 AM EDT

Police in Savannah work to bolster force

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Police in Savannah say they plan an increased presence in the downtown area over the next few weeks - and more police on the streets in other parts of the city - as the force is bolstered.

Police discussed their staffing levels and crime concerns among residents during a recent downtown neighborhood association meeting, The Savannah Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/2du5Gyo).

The meeting was an opportunity for residents to voice concerns and to learn how the community could support the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, said Barry Gale, the association's public safety chair.

"We live downtown - people are worried about the safety downtown," Gale said. "We're going to share thoughts on how we can do better and go about our daily lives. The police can only do so much. It's been a challenging year waiting on police officers to complete their training. . . . But it's tough to find a police officer these days."

The meeting comes a few weeks before the November promise date of a fully and efficiently staffed police department, the Savannah newspaper reported.

In April, the police chief announced the department was finally fully staffed - a first in 16 years.

However, it will take until at least November for the community to feel the effects of a full staff as the officers move through training, allowing for more promotions of those already on staff, Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin said.

The department has 612 allocated positions and officials hope to keep attrition as low as possible, the chief said.

"Our goal is to keep attrition under 10 percent compared to the national rate of 18 percent," Lumpkin said. "We're always going to have some people in training. We'll soon get close to where we need to be so you can see some things different. Everyone is recruiting. The market is bad across the country."

Among the main problems in the downtown area is property crime, Assistant Police Chief Julie Tolbert said.

"One of challenges is that we can't seem to get residents to secure their properties, but since it's such a large tourist base, people are drawn to this area... we need community support," she said.

To help combat the problem, police officials say they're increasing officer patrols on bikes and horses, among other strategies.

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