The Police Interceptor idled on Park Lane.
Tires chirped and a blur fled in the opposite direction. Officer Carlino pulled the Interceptor away from the lane and headed toward Habersham Street just as the blur sped past, its nose diving slightly, brake lights flickering. The light was red at the intersection at Henry Street but it didn’t seem to matter. The blur, an early-model Mustang, didn’t hesitate and accelerated heading west. The chase began.
Earlier that night Officer Joseph “Joe” Carlino, 41, with the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, finished a security shift at Habersham Beverage Warehouse before heading to Precinct 2 on Lathrop Avenue.
His patrol started at 10:30 p.m. During a roll-call meeting, beats were assigned, words were exchanged between officers, gear was collected. It was Christmas Eve. Sure to be a slow night, they said.
Six patrol officers in six cruisers headed out to cover their beats. Joe had beat 24, which covers the majority of downtown and the Historic District between Oglethorpe and Anderson streets, flanked by housing projects on both East Broad Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The more familiar an officer is with their neighborhoods, the better they can serve them. And Joe knew well the community he patrolled.
“I have the richest of the rich and then I have the middle class,” Joe said. “It’s the most diverse beat. ”
It was the night before Chirstmas. The one night no child would fight to get under the covers, instead willfully going without a fuss to awake in the morning to presents beneath their Christmas trees. But not everyone was spellbound by the merriment of the season.
“There’s the one percent that are the wolves,” Joe said, “98 percent that are the law-abiding, and then there’s us, the sheep dogs.”
Who knew wolves drove Mustangs, though.
Joe had been patrolling for about an hour before the Mustang flew past and the night came alive with the awakening of his cruiser’s engine. Blue and white warning lights came first before it was apparent the Mustang’s driver was attempting to flee.
When the driver’s lights went off, making the ‘Stang a dark, shadowy blip in the horizon on Henry Street, red and blue lights accompanied a siren. Rounding Montgomery Street, the Mustang took a hard right and headed toward downtown, widening the pursuit’s gap.
“What they forget is that they might outrun me,” Joe said between radio calls, “but not my radio.”
Units in the vicinity of Oglethorpe Avenue and Bay and East Broad streets moved to intercept the reckless driver. Another cruiser spotted the runner at a light on East Broad and pursued him out toward Wilmington Island before being called back.
“They [the citizens] want us to catch them,” Joe said, “but we can’t risk their lives in doing so.”
The officers found solace in knowing the Mustang’s driver is more than likely a repeat offender and will end up incarcerated eventually. During the 15-minute chase the speeding car flew past a church service, frightening those outside on the sidewalk.
A high-speed chase within the city limits puts at risk the lives of pedestrians and drivers, and is also illegal for any officer to pursue.
“We have to protect the community,” Joe said while explaining it’s a job that relies heavily on common sense and “what a prudent person sees as right.” Had they stopped the assailant, firearms would have been drawn.
“Your car is now an extension of your home,” Joe said of the possibility of concealed weapons in any car after a recent Senate Bill was amended. Senate Bill 308, signed on June 4, 2010 by Governor Sonny Perdue reformed Georgia’s gun and concealed carry laws.
The bill allows any person to ” … have or carry on his or her person a weapon or long gun on his or her property or inside his or her home, motor vehicle or place of business without a valid weapons carry license.”
What’s more, permits may be eliminated altogether in the coming year. Freshman Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, prefiled House Bill 679 late last year to eliminate the fingerprinting and permit application process.
This tends to unease local law enforcement, and for good reason. “The scariest part of this job is the unknown,” Joe said.
Editor’s note: This article is the result of a six hour ride-along with Precinct 2 Officer Joseph Carlino on Dec. 24 - 25.Contact Kenneth Rosen.