Top law dogs: A look back at two decades of Savannah police chiefs

·5 min read

The Savannah Police Department is experiencing an officer shortage, and a recent survey of 137 staffers suggests the department culture is one of distrust and fear stoked by the city's chief law enforcement officer, Chief Roy Minter.

The situation is just the latest in a series of struggles to befall SPD over the last two decades. Prior to 2000, the Savannah Police Department enjoyed relatively stable leadership. Since then, though, the department has experienced a merger with Chatham County Police in 2012, a demerger initiated in 2017, and six different chiefs, averaging just a little more than 3 years years of service.

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Here’s a rundown in reverse chronological order of SPD leadership for the past 22 years:

Roy Minter, 2018-current

City Manager: Rob Hernandez

Minter was hired after a seven-month search that included a series of interviews and meetings with key executive city staff, two citizens advisory panels and a law enforcement panel. Minter was recently retired from the police chief position in Peoria, Arizona, where he'd served since 2011. His previous experience included three years as the police chief in Denton, Texas and 15 years with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department, where he held several positions.

Former interim Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew
Former interim Savannah Police Chief Mark Revenew

Mark Revenew, Jan. 2018-Aug. 2018

City Manager: Rob Hernandez

Revenew was appointed by Hernandez while a national search was conducted for departing Chief Joseph Lumpkin's replacement just as the SPD demerged from the Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department.

Revenew had retired from the Pooler Police Department and was not looking to serve in the role for the long-term, which was a key reason why Hernandez appointed Revenew.

Joseph Lumpkin, 2014-2017

City Manager: Stephanie Cutter

Lumpkin was hired in November 2014, after serving as police chief in Athens-Clarke County.

Lumpkin replaced Willie Lovett, who was forced to retire in 2013 due to a sexual harassment complaint filed by a department officer and his conviction the following year on federal corruption charges.

Former Savannah Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin
Former Savannah Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin

Lumpkin departed the department to serve as the chief for DeKalb County. His decision to leave surprised then-Mayor Eddie DeLoach, who said during an interview with WTOC, "He gave a notice that he had five years when he came here. I don't know if everybody was thinking maybe he was slowing down, but obviously he's not. He's going to a much bigger police force."

Before he left, Lumpkin had a succession plan in place.

Julie Tolbert, 2013-2014 (interim)

Tolbert, who started with the city's police department in 1981, said at first she never imagined becoming a police officer.

"Being a police officer was the furthest thing from my mind," she said during an interview in 2017. "And honestly, I did not expect to get hired. But I was urged by three officers to apply … and I gave it a try."

Former interim Savannah Police Chief Julie Tolbert
Former interim Savannah Police Chief Julie Tolbert

She served as interim police chief after the abrupt retirement of former Chief Willie Lovett in 2013. She then took the job as assistant police chief under Lumpkin.

FILE -  Former Savannah-Chatham police Chief Willie Lovett, left, leaves the federal courthouse in 2014 with his attorneys Joshua Lowther, top, and William Dow Bonds, bottom.
FILE - Former Savannah-Chatham police Chief Willie Lovett, left, leaves the federal courthouse in 2014 with his attorneys Joshua Lowther, top, and William Dow Bonds, bottom.

Willie Lovett, 2010-2013

City Manager: Michael B. Brown

When Greg Gellatly, former SPD police chief and county commissioner, was looking for a new chief he knew who he wanted.

"We need to come together and we need to support Chief Lovett," Gellatly said in a 2010 commissioner’s meeting, according to a WTOC report.

Lovett stepped down as chief prior to a June 2014 indictment charging him with extortion, participating in an illegal gambling operation and conspiring to obstruct the enforcement of state criminal laws, according to a federal Justice Department news release.

Lovett was sentenced in February 2015 to more than seven years in federal prison and fined $50,000. He was released in 2021.

In 2015, the Georgia Attorney General's Office determined that Lovett was entitled to his $130,000 per year pension. Federal prosecutors garnished Lovett’s pension to pay for more than $50,000 in fines and assessments.

Former Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Michael Berkow
Former Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Michael Berkow

Michael Berkow, 2006-2009

When Michael Berkow was hired by SPD as its next police chief, he was under investigation for a lawsuit from his last job as the Los Angeles Police Department chief, according to a 2005 court document.

The lawsuit alleged Berkow traded sex for promotions and helped cover up evidence in the murder of a famous rap star.

Berkow called the claims nothing more than "ugly accusations."

During his first year as chief, Berkow was also named in at least one other lawsuit, stemming from his previous position with the LAPD. The lawsuit was dropped in May 2007.

The search for a new chief did not come without controversy, according to a report on lapd.com.

"An unsigned letter sent to City Manager Michael Brown and NEWS 3 in 2006 threatened physical harm and political ruin if Brown didn't pick finalist and interim chief at the time, Willie Lovett. The letter also alleged Brown knew who he wanted from the start. Brown said the claims were not true, and told WSAV he had a 'completely open mind' during the entire search process."

Berkow stepped down as chief to work in the private sector for a time, but eventually became director of the Coast Guard Investigative Service in 2012.

Daniel Flynn, 2000-2005

When Flynn was hired as SPD chief, he said he would only stay in the position for five years.

Lovett, a major in the police force at the time, said Flynn’s legacy as police chief was the merger of Savannah Police Department and Chatham County Police Department.

The merger would last until 2018, when the department split into its previous entities.

Flynn began his long career with the Miami-Dade Police Department in 1973 and spent 27 years with that agency, retiring as a major in 2000. He was hired as Marietta Police Chief from 2007 before retiring in 2022.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: A look at Savannah police chiefs who shaped department since 2000