Top cop Beverly Harvard broke down many doors

Not long after becoming Atlanta’s first female police chief in 1994, Beverly Harvard stopped requiring that officers wear stiff, spit-shined shoes. That decision — imagine trying to chase a perp in such immobilizing footwear — came not from one of the Fashion Police, but rather, a veteran working cop.

Harvard was 22 and fresh out of Morris Brown College when she joined the Atlanta Police Department as one of its first female recruits in 1973. She mostly hoped to prove her husband and a friend wrong who bet her $100 she wouldn't make it. And she kept proving it, first by walking a 6 p.m.-2 a.m. beat along the hippie-heavy (and all that entailed) 10th Street Strip, then rising through the ranks as commander of various divisions and even the department's spokesperson during 1981's missing and murdered child investigation.

She was the mother of a 6-year-old daughter herself and had been acting chief for six months when Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell named her top cop. With Atlanta preparing to host the world at the 1996 Summer Olympics, she became the first black woman (and only the third woman ever) to head up a major U.S. police department.

Harvard lasted eight years in a job that was rife with unique challenges and never far from politics. A hiring shortage left APD 400 officers down at one point. Freaknik, the rollicking “black spring break,” paralyzed the city at its height in the mid-’90s when 250,000 revelers (and criminals taking advantage) showed up. APD started cracking down on even minor infractions and kept the partyers’ cars moving, and by decade’s end, Freaknik had moved on for good.

Harvard chose not to reapply for her job when Mayor Shirley Franklin took office in 2002. But four decades after taking that $100 bet, she’s still in law enforcement, serving as United States Marshal for the Northern District of Georgia.