Following weekend violence, Atlanta police chief announces department restructuring

Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant speaks at a press conference in May. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant speaks at a press conference in May. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Atlanta’s police chief announced Monday he is “immediately restructuring” his department, following another violent weekend in the city that involved a brash shooting spree and left residents on edge.

Chief Rodney Bryant, addressing the Atlanta City Council, said APD will centralize its investigations unit, create a new domestic violence team and expand its gun assault unit. He said the changes should allow police “to work more aggravated assault cases more thoroughly, more efficiently and take individuals off the streets more rapidly.”

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The announcement comes as city leaders search for answers to stem a citywide rise in gun violence and crime over the last year. With homicides up more than 60% from this time last year, Bryant pitched the restructuring as a way for APD to use its resources and staff more effectively to prevent and investigate crimes.

“The public is scared,” City Council President Felicia Moore said. “People are feeling unsafe. People feel they can’t walk, they can’t jog, they can’t get gas at the gas station. There’s a bit of unease. And it’s not just in one area of town. ... The public certainly wants to hear action and what’s being done.”

Bryant said the department also plans to grow its license and permitting unit to address restaurants and clubs that violate city laws. He said he will hire five new civilian inspectors and move three additional police investigators onto that unit.

The department has also seen a rise in domestic instances of gun violence in which the victim and perpetrator know one another, said Bryant, who was also confirmed as APD’s permanent chief Monday after serving in an interim capacity for about a year.

“That’s where we’re having our greatest difficulties,” Bryant said, adding that in many cases, the guns involved are purchased legally.

Atlanta police investigate a fatal shooting on June 3. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Atlanta police investigate a fatal shooting on June 3. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

While city agency heads normally do not participate in City Council meetings, Moore asked Bryant to speak Monday following the violence over the weekend. On Saturday, authorities said, a man fired gunshots at three joggers before plowing into a man with his car in Buckhead. One man, who was on his morning walk, was shot twice. Another victim was critically injured as he carried out trash when a silver sedan hit him and pinned him against another vehicle.

The suspect, identified as 22-year-old Gaelen Newsom, was arrested at the scene Saturday and denied bond on Monday. Bryant told the council that Newsom had no criminal history and legally purchased a gun in April.

“We have no indication on why he picked out these victims, why he picked this area, why he did anything,” Bryant told the council, who referred to the suspect as a serial shooter.

A fatal shooting at a downtown apartment complex last week marked Atlanta’s 60th homicide case of the year. Over the weekend in Atlanta, in addition to the shooting spree in Buckhead, five people were arrested on assault charges after police say they severely beat a man who in turn pulled out a gun and shot one of his attackers on Edgewood Avenue. And NBA star Enes Kanter said his brother was robbed at gunpoint early Sunday in downtown.

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Moore, who is also running to succeed Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms this year, urged Bryant to move officers from administrative duty onto patrol shifts, to increase police presence on the streets. APD is currently about 400 officers short of its authorized strength of 2,040.

“It may be non-traditional, and it may be a little disruptive,” Moore said. “But if it helps to the goal of making sure we get as many officers as we can on the street, when we know we’re down 400 ... I wish you would explore being more aggressive in that area.”

Bryant said his restructuring plan includes administrative officers having more of a street presence, but he noted that “when we are cutting back in one area, it affects another.”

Council members peppered Bryant with questions about the department’s crime prevention strategies and recruitment efforts. Bryant said recruitment has increased in recent months and that the police department will use a marketing specialist to promote hiring.

Later in the meeting, the council approved the city’s budget for the next year, which includes a 7% increase in police department funding, from $215 million to over $230 million. This $15 million increase, the largest for any department in the general fund, allows the department to hire 150 additional officers and implement an additional pay raise for police.

“Trying to hire 400 to 500 officers is clearly an effort that is incredibly significant and will take a long time to accomplish,” said Councilman J.P. Matzigkeit, who added he wanted the city to put together a plan specifically focused on police recruitment.

Councilmen Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens, both of whom have also launched mayoral campaigns, spoke during the meeting. Brown said he wanted to see the department put a greater focus on community policing, especially in under-resourced areas. Dickens spoke about the need for APD to have a greater presence at known problem spots when crowds gather late on weekends.

A task force convened by Bottoms last month is also working to suggested solutions this month focused on reducing violence.

Atlanta’s police chief restructures department:

Police Chief Rodney Bryant announced several changes to the department’s structure at Monday’s City Council meeting:

- A centralized investigations unit

- A new domestic violence unit

- An expansion of the gun assault unit

- Additional inspectors for the license and permitting team

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