Atlanta’s acting police chief on crime, morale, Rayshard Brooks case

07/07/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Atlanta Police Department Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant speaks during a presser at the Atlanta Police Department headquarters in Atlanta, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to identifying and finding four men that APD believes are people of interest in the killing of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. Secoriea was shot and killed while riding with her family along University Avenue, near the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an APD officer.(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
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07/07/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Atlanta Police Department Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant speaks during a presser at the Atlanta Police Department headquarters in Atlanta, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. There is a $20,000 reward for information leading to identifying and finding four men that APD believes are people of interest in the killing of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. Secoriea was shot and killed while riding with her family along University Avenue, near the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an APD officer.(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Interim Chief Rodney Bryant spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during an editorial board meeting

Interim Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant said Thursday that the GBI’s recently completed investigation into Rayshard Brooks’ death turned up little that would surprise those who have followed the fatal police shooting.

The GBI on Monday handed over its findings to the Atlanta Police Department and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. In June, five days after Brooks was fatally shot in the parking lot of a since-razed Wendy’s, Howard charged Officer Garrett Rolfe, since fired, with felony murder and other charges. The other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, faces lesser charges. Both are free on bond.

“We’re still in the process of evaluating and taking a look at it at this point,” Bryant said Thursday during a meeting with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board. “There’s nothing in it that I don’t think the public is already aware of that is deeply concerning at all, but we are continuing to evaluate it and look through their findings.”

Bryant said the Atlanta Police Department would not release the GBI file to the public. The GBI traditionally refuses comment on its findings until after a case is closed.

Rolfe faces 11 charges in the fatal shooting of Brooks on June 12. Brooks was found sleeping in the Wendy’s drive-thru and later failed a breathalyzer test before struggling over a Taser during his arrest. In a lawsuit, Rolfe, seeking reinstatement to the force, said Brooks violently resisted arrest. The shooting, the lawsuit contends, was justified.

Bryant was appointed by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in June after Chief Erika Shields resigned following the Brooks shooting. He discussed other public safety issues during the editorial board meeting, held via Zoom owing to coronavirus concerns.

Morale has improved following this summer’s exodus of veteran personnel, Bryant said. The department lost 63 officers in July and August.

”Clearly, throughout the summer we took a significant hit, but those numbers have begun to slow down,” he said.

Bryant said three officers who resigned during the summer have changed their minds and are returning.

“There’s still a long way to go, but I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Atlanta police union president Jason Segura said those who have returned cannot keep up with the number of departing officers.

“There’s no open line of communication between the rank and file and the command staff,” Segura said.

Officers recently interviewed by the AJC said their departures were driven in large measure by their perceived lack of respect from superiors - sometimes referred to as “white-shirts.”

“To give everyone individual attention is very difficult,” Bryant said. “We have to do better. I think we are in the process of doing that.”

Bryant noted that he dons “white-shirt” dress when duty calls, but generally tends toward the same blue that uniformed officers wear on a daily basis.

Law enforcement shouldn’t have to address all of society’s ills, he said.

“If there’s a husband and wife that can’t settle an issue, the police are called. If a homeless person is begging for something to eat, the police are called,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that police don’t respond. What I am suggesting is that police may not be the primary responder to these calls. I think there are entities and other institutions that may have a primary role in being able to address certain situations before police are called.”

Two fatal shootings Thursday morning brought Atlanta’s 2020 homicide total to 101 — two more than recorded in all of 2019.

“We’ve seen violent crime increase throughout our country in many major cities,” said Bryant, who added that he doesn’t believe the spike is related to less-proactive policing. “To say that’s a contributing factor here in the city of Atlanta is very difficult for us to imagine. What I can say is there will be studies to find out why there’s such a significant impact as it relates to homicides because overall, crime is down in the city of Atlanta.”

Homicides have dipped since the summer, Bryant said.

“This is the first time we’ve had two (killings) on any given day since July,” he said.

Sunday marks the three-month anniversary of the fatal shooting of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner. The rising third-grader died July 4 after police said shooters opened fire while manning a “makeshift roadblock” on University Avenue in south Atlanta, across the street from the now-demolished Wendy’s where Brooks was killed.

Police have arrested just one suspect: 19-year-old Julian Conley, who insists through his lawyer he did not shoot the girl.

“We continue to work on that case. We were happy with that arrest,” Bryant said. “I was proud of the men and women that worked to bring it to that level of resolution, but there’s still more work to be done.”

Mayor Bottoms has said that with so many police departments seeking new personnel, now is not the time to conduct a nationwide search for a permanent police chief. Bryant demurred when asked if he wants the position for good.

“The reality is I really haven’t put a lot of thought into it,” Bryant said. “I came to help and serve, and I do that day to day. If I’m needed beyond this position, then I’ll do that.”