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District attorney: Solving crime problem will take concerted efforts

District Attorney Meg Heap told 50 local business owners Thursday that there’s no magic to solve Savannah’s crime challenges and encouraged them to lobby their legislators for more information on criminals.

Heap spoke at the monthly luncheon for Buy Local, a Savannah organization that advocates and supports locally-owned independent businesses.

The goal of the district attorney’s office, Heap said, is to move cases as quickly as possible through the criminal justice system.

“We have 131 full-time employees at our office,” she said. “I believe we’re the only people who give victims a voice.”

Several major issues Savannah faces are with gangs, pardons and parole, intercept, and human trafficking, and these issues are interrelated and need to be addressed in a cohesive fashion, said Heap.

“I don’t think there’s one magic stick that’s going to solve our problems,” she said. “For instance, we have issues with gangs. We have a gang prosecutor. He has lots of experience in that area. We’ve applied for grants to help us get a gang investigator. We’re joining Chief Lumpkin’s initiative ‘End Gun Violence’ and we work very closely together.”

“We have a lot of education to do,” Heap said. “In terms of human trafficking, we need to get the people’s names who are having sex with the victims. Not just the pimp. This is something we need to educate our police officers on, on a ground level.”

Heap also said a key initiative as district attorney is to overturn a law to ensure convicts have to disclose to the community what crime they’ve been convicted of after being pardoned.

“Before we changed this law, the parole board pardoned 99 percent of people who submit an application for a pardon,” she said.

Heap also is trying to block violent offenders from being pardoned. “These are the people who do not need to get out,” she said.

“Also, we want to be able to look at the records of convicted felons, and not told it’s a ‘state secret,’” Heap said. She explained she will be fighting “state secrets” in the State Supreme Court this fall.

Scott West, a member at Buy Local, asked Heap how the group members can help, and Heap responded by asking them to write letters to their state legislators.

Sheriff John Wilcher, who was sitting in the audience, added “Also, write your congressman and newspaper editors and voice your opinion there!”

Matt Hewitt, general manager of Savannah Pedicab, said his company tries to be involved with local events and to make sure people know the company is from Savannah and supports the city. He said Heap’s talk helped him see what the challenges are.

“Heap’s talk was really interesting because she allowed us to see the red tape on both sides and what she’s having to fight against. It was very enlightening as a citizen,” Hewitt said. “She was focused on violent crimes, not wasting time with something like the War on Drugs or frivolous offenses. The speech was dark, but that’s what we deal with and live with in this town. It’s refreshing to hear that there’s someone out there trying to fight to keep this town as safe as possible.”

Dan Pavlin, Buy Local president, said he thought Heap’s time with the group was important.

“The idea is to get to know Meg, shake hands with her, and learn to trust her. We want our members to know and have contact with Savannah’s D.A.,” he said. “After hearing Heap’s talk and hearing the reaction of our members, we were told it was valuable and important and I think it rings true what she said. We need to hear it.” 

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