Former police chief Pennington dies

Former Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington, who used a data-driven system to help bring the city’s crime numbers down but also faced criticism for spending a lot of time out of town, has died.

Pennington arrived in 2002 and served throughout the two terms of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. He was successful in cutting the city’s crime rate, seeing violent crime in Georgia’s capital fall 39 percent and overall crime reduced 19 percent.

Franklin said Pennington “never faltered in his commitment and determination to improve the Atlanta Police Department.

"Richard was a great leader among leaders in the fields of law enforcement and public administration,” Franklin said Thursday night. “I am honored to have served as mayor with him as Police Chief.”

Before Atlanta, he served as chief in New Orleans, where he established his reputation. There, he oversaw the police department, and the number of murders dropped drastically. Other violent crime also fell 50 percent during his tenure.

In the early days of Franklin’s administration, finding a police chief became the new mayor’s top priority.

After a five-month search, Franklin said, “Richard Pennington had a vision of a police department in New Orleans which I believe will serve us well. A professional department, a well-managed department, a well-trained department, a well-compensated department, a well-equipped department, a department for whom there would be no question about the integrity of the operation.”

Prior to going to New Orleans, Pennington served 26 years with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.

In Atlanta, he shook up the department by creating a computerized system that tracked crimes, and by holding zone commanders accountable in weekly meetings.

But he also engendered criticism because of numerous absences, including being on vacation in Cancun during the 2005 Brian Nichols shooting in downtown Atlanta. During his tenure — he stepped down in 2010 at the end of Franklin’s second term — he was away 260 days.

In June of 2010 Pennington was admitted to the Shepherd Center for rehabilitation after he had suffered a stroke on Memorial Day.

After his stroke, Pennington made few public appearances.