Police Chief Erika Shields speaks to reporters on Jan. 6 ahead a winter storm expected to hit much of North Georgia. Branden Camp / For the AJC
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

APD Chief: Arrests should have followed statue desecration

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields expressed regret about how her officers dealt with protesters Sunday who defaced a statue in Piedmont Park.

“I feel like that we should have identified, removed and arrested a couple of people earlier in the march, absolutely,” Shields said in an interview with Channel 2 Action News. 

RELATED: Atlanta protesters deface Peace Monument in Piedmont Park

The protest, organized in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, started downtown, proceeded along Peachtree Street and into Piedmont Park, where demonstrators spray painted what they thought was a Confederate statute but was actually a monument to post-Civil War reconciliation.

IN-DEPTH: After Charlottesville, a fresh look at Atlanta’s Confederate symbols

Shields said by that time, when arrests were necessary, “we couldn’t identify them.” “And that’s that’s not acceptable,” she continued. “We have the intelligence, we have the probable cause, we need to take action.”

Police are studying videotape of the protest to identify areas in which they can improve, the chief said. 

“You look at the footage, you review all your plans and you get better,” she said. “And we’re gonna be better and we’re gonna bring our a-game. We have to.”

Shields said she expects more protests in the coming days that will test the department’s readiness. She reiterated the importance of providing a buffer between demonstrators and counter-demonstrators.

Charlottesville police have been criticized for failing to keep white supremacists and counter-protesters separated. Street fights broke out across the otherwise quaint college town and law enforcement seemed either overwhelmed or unprepared. 

RELATED: Could Charlottesville chaos happen here?

“It’s critical that we be in a position that we can respond immediately,” Shields said. “Once you get behind, once you start to lose control of the crowd, it is so difficult to close the gap, and that’s where stuff starts to go wrong.”

“ So we wanna postion ourselves -- and that’s where the intelligence-gathering is critical -- so that we’re in a place where we have sufficient number of individuals and the properly trained and equipped individuals positioned where we need them,” she said. 

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