“There’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not Rodney Bryant serving as interim (chief) has something to do with crime in our city,” Bottoms said during a press conference “Now I think it’s a ludicrous conversation because this COVID crime wave has been experienced throughout the country.”
Bottoms has mentioned a “COVID crime wave” before, notably in her recent State of the City address. Her predecessor, former Mayor Kasim Reed, said in a radio interview last week that the city’s “level of crime and violence is wholly unacceptable” and is “not COVID-driven.” He didn’t name names during the interview on the Frank Ski Morning Show.
Bottoms also did not name names during her Tuesday news conference, but City Council President Felicia Moore, who has announced she will run against Bottoms in this year’s mayoral election, has criticized her for taking so long to name a permanent chief.
“I don’t want there to be any question if I have confidence in Chief Bryant,” Bottoms said. “Whether his title is interim or permanent, he’s showing up and leading every day. So for those of you who believe naming him as permanent chief will make a difference in crime in our city, I’m naming him as permanent chief today.”
Bottoms resisted a nationwide search after former chief Erika Shields stepped down as chief last June, following the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks. Shields eventually resigned to become chief of the Louisville, Kentucky’s police force.
Bottoms said too many other cities have been looking for new chiefs, diluting the pool of candidates. But many major cities have recently hired new chiefs. Former Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, who saw that city through the destructive flooding wrought by Hurricane Harvey, is now Miami’s police chief, for example.
Bryant came out of retirement, having served 31 years on the force, to accept the interim role last year. During Tuesday’s news conference, Bottoms suggested his permanent position might not last past the next election cycle.
“If it’s appropriate to launch a national search (after the election), then that decision can be made at that time,” Bottoms said.
Moore said she would launch such a search and would consider candidates from inside and outside the department if elected mayor.
The city is coming off another violent weekend, with 12 shootings reported. Two people were killed, including 15-year-old Diamond Johnson. The Atlanta Police Department responded with an impassioned plea, urging people to quit shooting each other.
“No argument is worth destroying lives. We encourage people to think before they reach for a gun,” the department said in a statement. “For those who chose crime and gun violence, we need you to know that we will find you.”
Numerous homicides remain unsolved; the department is still searching for suspects in the July 2, 2020 shooting death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, among others.
Moore has declined to assess Bryant’s performance, saying she’s heard mixed reviews.
“It depends on who you talk to,” Moore said. “I haven’t really looked at it too closely because I didn’t look at him as a permanent (chief).”
With an election just six months away, Bryant’s appointment was the mayor’s only option, said community activist and former city council member Derrick Boazman.
“This is a political move,” Boazman said. “(Bottoms) needed to name someone to bring some stability to the department, but no one’s going to take the job with the possibility there will be a new mayor come November.”
Bryant joined the department as a peace officer in 1988, just out of high school. He would later receive his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University in criminal justice and a master’s in administration from Central Michigan University. That put him on an executive track, and Bryant advanced all the way to assistant chief in 2017.
He succeeded Shields under trying circumstances. The night before his interim appointment, Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe shot Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot following a scuffle where Brooks struck an officer hard enough to cause a concussion, grabbed his Taser and aimed it at Rolfe, who then fired. Brooks’ death led to widespread unrest in the city; the Wendy’s was torched and later razed. Secoriea was shot to death near the restaurant site at an armed, unauthorized blockade.
Rolfe was immediately fired and faces felony murder and other charges. The other officer involved faces lesser charges including aggravated assault.
Morale has remained a problem, though Bryant insists the department has turned the corner. The department has struggled to retain and recruit officers, with many feeling the city doesn’t have their back after six officers involved in an aggressive arrest and tasing of two unarmed college students, suspected of violating curfew during protests against police brutality, were indicted last June by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.
The swift action against Rolfe and other officers sparked an unofficial “blue flu” last summer.
The department remains about 400 officers under its authorized level.
“It was a challenging year,” Bryant said Tuesday.
He said the department is beefing up its background and recruitment program.
“Changing that structure will give us an advantage,” Bryant said. “Professionally, many large police departments are seeing the exact same thing. We are all scrambling trying to reestablish our forces.”
The investigations and repeat offender units are also being restructured, he said.
Boazman said that Bryant still has a chance to leave his mark on the department.
“He has nothing to lose,” Boazman said. “On the south side, we’re still waiting to hear from him on the police abuse problems. Now is the time for him to be bold.”
Bryant acknowledged Tuesday there’s plenty of work to be done.
“Policing has to rebrand itself,” he said. “We didn’t get it all right. We messed up as a profession.”
As for the challenges facing the Atlanta Police Department, Bryant said, “Yes, we have a long way to go but I see the path to getting us there.”