“It’s still surreal,” Schierbaum told reporters. “I did not think that when I started my service with the Atlanta Police Department, this is where the journey would take me ... I want it to be known that when I stand and wherever I go, I represent 1,500 of the best sworn men and women who’s wearing uniform and over 300 of the best civilians that are serving our city of Atlanta. So when I’m here today, it’s about them. It’s about them staying with the Atlanta Police Department. It’s about them and the work they do every day.”
Schierbaum’s appointment signals a return to stability in department leadership, as he had been interim chief since the June retirement of Rodney Bryant, who came out of retirement to take the top job during a tumultuous period in 2020 following the resignation of former Chief Erika Shields. Shields stepped down the day after Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta officer in a Wendy’s parking lot amid nationwide protests against racial injustice.
Dickens said he had several criteria the next chief needed to meet, including someone “who is a believer in 21st Century policing” and uses data to make decisions, as well as meets the needs of the community, something that was determined through a public survey that garnered more than 2,000 responses.
Of those, 67% said they wanted a chief who has a track record of building community trust. Crime reduction was listed among the top priorities for 73% of respondents, and 71% ranked honesty and integrity among the character attributes they wanted in a police chief.
Out of a pool of about 70 applicants, Schierbaum met that high bar.
Additionally, for the open-ended question in which survey respondents could write anything they wanted, the second-highest response was to hire Schierbaum, Dickens said.
“Chief Schierbaum shares my administration’s goal and vision of one safe city,” he said. “He is the right leader at the right time to address public safety issues facing our city. He is the right leader for helping us to build one safe city with one bright future.”
Added Dickens, “When Schierbaum took over in an interim capacity in June, he executed our summer safety plan and brought enormous success to our city.”
Under Schierbaum’s leadership this summer, Dickens said the city saw a 29% decrease in homicides, a 26% decrease in persons shot and a 14% decrease in robberies when compared to summer 2021. However, the number of killings overall has stayed on pace with last year. As of Monday, the department had opened 136 homicide investigations this year compared to 133 last year.
The number of shootings involving Atlanta officers also has increased in 2022, with 12 incidents so far this year compared to six last year, according to GBI data.
Atlanta City Councilman Dustin Hillis, who is the public safety chair, called Dickens’ decision an “excellent choice.”
“I look forward to continuing to work hand-in-hand with Chief Schierbaum to combat crime and improve public safety throughout our (city),” Hillis wrote on Twitter.
Schierbaum, 51, joined the department in 2002 after 10 years with the sheriff’s office in Johnson County, Illinois. He graduated as valedictorian of his Atlanta police academy class and began his service as an officer in Zone 5 in Midtown.
He said his plan is to have the department continue operating as it has been for the past five months, as no policing or community engagement strategies were treated as being only temporary.
“There’s no training wheels that are coming off,” Schierbaum said. “We’re gonna keep fighting crime. If you’re committing crime in the city, you’re going to jail. If you’re street racing in the city, you’re going to jail.”
He does not plan on a department leadership shakeup apart from scheduled retirements that may come next year, he said.
His goal is to continue aggressively targeting gangs, drugs and illegal guns, which includes streamlining strategies to be more data- and intelligence-driven, while also building trust between the force and the community, he said.
To the men and women of the department, Schierbaum said, “know that as long as you are a department that is constitutional, committed, competent and compassionate, you will always have my support as chief of police.”