Atlanta police chief talks crime, morale ahead of retirement

Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Rodney Bryant’s last day is June 1

After more than three decades with the department, Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant is retiring Wednesday.

For the 55-year-old, the move is bittersweet. It’s the second time the southwest Atlanta native has put away his badge. He first left in 2019 but was named chief in June 2020 during a tumultuous time for cops in Atlanta and across the nation.

Weeks after intense demonstrations over George Floyd’s murder, Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by an Atlanta police officer in the parking lot of a Wendy’s. The shooting, captured on video, kicked off another wave of protests that at times turned destructive.

Around that time, several police officers were fired and charged in use-of-force cases, including Garrett Rolfe, the officer who killed Brooks. Rolfe was fired one day after the June 12, 2020, shooting. Then Chief Erika Shields announced that afternoon she was stepping aside as chief and later left the department.

Bryant agreed to come back and lead the department at the request of former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Nearly two years later, the 34-year department veteran is looking forward to the next chapter in his life.

“It was different than what most people would have probably imagined,” Bryant said of becoming chief during such a rocky time in the city’s history. Generally a new chief has an inaugural period, Bryant said, a honeymoon phase of sorts where they have time to learn the ropes.

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Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

“For me that didn’t exist,” he said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview at Atlanta police headquarters. “We were in the heat of civil disturbance. Emotions were high and we were dealing with protests every single day.”

Bryant said he believes there was a rush to judgment in the decision to fire and charge some of Atlanta’s police officers involved in use-of-force cases in 2020.

“We were in a different time, a different place,” he said. “It is clear that the decision to charge our officers, I think, was premature. I think they should have waited for the GBI’s investigations.”

He said he supports a special prosecutor’s decision this week to dismiss charges against six officers involved in the arrests of two college students during the George Floyd protests that summer, saying he thought the case was adjudicated properly.

Bryant’s final day is June 1 and a retirement celebration is planned for him Wednesday evening at City Hall.

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April 15, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Mayor Andre Dickens (behind) leave after announcing Chief’s retirement at the Atlanta Police Department Zone 4 headquarters on Friday, April 15, 2022. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant will retire in June after serving the city for over three decades, the mayor’s office announced Friday morning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

April 15, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Mayor Andre Dickens (behind) leave after announcing Chief’s retirement at the Atlanta Police Department Zone 4 headquarters on Friday, April 15, 2022. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant will retire in June after serving the city for over three decades, the mayor’s office announced Friday morning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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April 15, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Mayor Andre Dickens (behind) leave after announcing Chief’s retirement at the Atlanta Police Department Zone 4 headquarters on Friday, April 15, 2022. Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant will retire in June after serving the city for over three decades, the mayor’s office announced Friday morning. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has yet to announce who will be named interim chief while a national search gets underway for a replacement. Bryant, who joined the department in 1988 at just 20 years old, said he would love to see an internal candidate selected as the city’s 26th chief. As for now, he said he doesn’t know who will take over the department in an interim role next week.

ExploreAtlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant to retire in June

His two years in charge of the department weren’t easy, Bryant acknowledged. Officer morale was at an all-time low amid the protests and officers were leaving en masse. Like many major departments, Atlanta is still grappling with a surge of deadly shootings.

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Homicide investigators collect evidence after a 19-year-old man was shot and killed May 6 in southwest Atlanta. The department has investigated 66 homicides since the start of the year. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Homicide investigators collect evidence after a 19-year-old man was shot and killed May 6 in southwest Atlanta. The department has investigated 66 homicides since the start of the year. 
(John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

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Homicide investigators collect evidence after a 19-year-old man was shot and killed May 6 in southwest Atlanta. The department has investigated 66 homicides since the start of the year. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

As of Thursday the department had investigated 66 slayings since the start of the year, up from 54 this time in 2021. While homicides are up over the past two years, Bryant said morale within the department has improved. More officers are joining APD and attrition appears to be slowing, he said.

According to the department, there have been 71 new hires since Jan. 1 and 154 since last July. There are currently 1,524 sworn officers in Atlanta’s ranks and another 137 recruits in the pipeline.

“Morale continues to grow,” Bryant said. “We have our ebbs and flows, but things are certainly getting better. We aren’t losing nearly as many people as we were a year and a half ago.”

Dickens has said he hopes to hire 250 new officers this year to alleviate the shortage and bolster the type of community policing he would like to see more of across the department’s six zones.

“I want to do community-based policing, which means getting out of your car to go walk, and you can’t get out of your car if you’re already covering more ground in your car then you need to,” Dickens said last month.

Bryant said the department appears on track to meet the mayor’s goal of hiring 250 officers by year’s end.

Having held every rank except captain, Bryant said he’s proud of his career in Atlanta and feels like he’s leaving the department in better shape than when he inherited it. Outdated precincts are being replaced and city officials have approved a state-of-the-art training facility for police and fire recruits. For Bryant, the future of public safety in Atlanta looks bright.

As for what’s next, the outgoing chief said he looks forward to riding his Harley-Davidson, fixing up his old Ford Mustang and spending more time with his three adult daughters.

He also plans to take his mother out more often.

“I owe her a bunch of lunches,” he said smiling. “I’ve been so busy that I haven’t really had time to break away during the day.”

His biggest regret, he said, was not immediately meeting with his officers the day he took over the department in June 2020. In the throes of civil unrest, Bryant greeted his executive staff on Day 1 before taking his spot in the joint-operations center to monitor the protests.

“I didn’t speak to the men and women of this police department until three days later and I think that was a mistake,” he said. “My first message should have been to them. Even though they were in the midst of dealing with protests, they should have heard my voice and understood that I was here with them.”

Though he’s come back from retirement before, Bryant thinks when he walks out the door next week, it’s for good.

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Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Atlanta Police Department Chief Rodney Bryant in Atlanta on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

“I’m looking forward to retirement,” he said. “I’ve spent just about my entire adult life wearing this uniform ... But I know our city, our department is in good hands because we have a phenomenal team in place.”