Near the turn of the 20th century, Chatham County, Georgia, was experiencing a growth in population, and with it, an increase in crime. A shortage of manpower in existing police forces created a need for a County patrol force. This need triggered a group of prominent county citizens, led by Fred W. Osborn, to approach the Chatham County Commission on November 13, 1902, with a request that the commissioners “establish a County Patrol force for the Eighth District Georgia Militia.”
A legislative act was not passed to form a county police department until August 17, 1907. The reason for the delay was that the Chatham County Commissioners did not possess the authority to impose the necessary tax for compensation of county police officers. Less than two years later, on January 15, 1909, the legislative act establishing a county police department was deemed unconstitutional. However, August 16, 1909, the Georgia Legislature signed the police bill into law allowing counties with populations of more than 90,000 to elect or appoint a county police department and impose a tax for police expenses and compensation of county police officers. A Georgia legislator from Savannah, the Honorable Joseph McCarthy, is known as “the father” of this police bill which permitted the creation of the Chatham County Police Department.
Even though the legislative and legal issues were resolved to create a county police force, it was not until September 25, 1912, that the Chatham County Police Department was established. On this date, bonds for county police officers were finalized and approved, and bids were placed for police uniforms and motorcycles. Six motorcycles were purchased: three Twin Harley-Davidsons and three Twin Indian machines. The Chatham County Police Department headquarters was located at the old Chatham County Jail on Habersham Street. Six men were sworn into the newly formed police department on October 1, 1912. These six men included Chief of Police, A. P. McFarland, Lieutenant, James H. McGrath, and officers Paschal M. Strong, H.E. Harley, James E. McBride, and W. O. Dotson.
In 2003, both the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and the Savannah City Council voted to formally combine police efforts to eliminate duplication of services. After many years of hard work, on January 1, 2005, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department was a fully formed joint police power. In June of 2017, after 12 years of combined policing efforts from the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, Savannah City Council voted to end the contract for service effectively dissolving a joint police department.
Chatham County quickly began the process of rebuilding the Chatham County Police Department. This involved hiring Chief of Police, Jeffrey M. Hadley, and bringing back former county officers. On February 1, 2018, the Chatham County Police Department resumed policing responsibilities in unincorporated Chatham County. The mission of the department is to provide excellent service through policing services and community engagement.