Veteran Atlanta deputy police chief named Chattanooga’s new top cop

Atlanta police Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy was named Chattanooga's chief of police. (Credit: Atlanta Police Department)

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Atlanta police Deputy Chief Celeste Murphy was named Chattanooga's chief of police. (Credit: Atlanta Police Department)

Celeste Murphy will be 1st female to lead department

The deputy chief of the Atlanta Police Department is headed for the Appalachian foothills after being named Chattanooga’s next police chief Tuesday, becoming the first female to lead the department.

Celeste Murphy joined APD 25 years ago and has been a deputy chief since January 2020.

Chattanooga leaders went through an extensive public input process to select Murphy, Chattanooga city spokesperson Ellis Smith said, talking to residents and having them fill out surveys.

“The themes that really emerged from that ultimately sort of painted a portrait of Celeste Murphy,” he said, adding that the main takeaway was that people want to feel safe and to know the police chief will create safety in innovative ways while continuing to build community trust.

Murphy’s appointment in Chattanooga is still pending approval by the City Council.

Mayor Tim Kelly said he was thrilled to name Murphy the next chief of police, lauding her “lifelong commitment to civil rights and community policing.”

“We’re fortunate to have her experience, her leadership and her heart in Chattanooga,” Kelly said in a statement. “We have a great police department and Celeste is the right person to help take it to the next level.”

Spokesperson Chata Spikes said the Atlanta department is extremely proud of Murphy and her success, especially as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

“The city of Atlanta Police Department has birthed more than 50 former officers who have become chiefs at various law enforcement agencies, and we are very proud of Deputy Chief Murphy and her contributions to APD and to the city of Atlanta,” Spikes said. “This proves that it says Atlanta Police Department is a good training ground for law enforcement and police leadership.”

The Chattanooga Police Department has been without a permanent chief since last summer when David Roddy announced his retirement after 26 years on the force, four of which he served as chief.

During his tenure as chief, Roddy continued the mission to “shake the snow globe” of policing and gained notoriety among Chattanoogans for setting a culture of transparency and accountability within the department, firing more officers for misconduct than his predecessors. In some cases, he requested the fired officers be decertified so they could no longer work in law enforcement in Tennessee.

But the department has not been without stains on its record — issues that repeatedly are brought up by community activists, and something with which Murphy will have to grapple.

In May 2020, Roddy earned both praise and scrutiny after his tweet condemning the actions of the Minneapolis officer who knelt on the neck of George Floyd went viral. Community activists were quick to point out that Roddy hadn’t also condemned the actions of his own officers — one of whom was charged and eventually convicted in federal court for raping multiple women while in uniform — with the same immediacy.

Roddy explained that similar to criminal investigations, law enforcement leaders’ comments could violate the accused’s constitutional right to due process.

In September 2020, Murphy made her own comments on Floyd’s killing. At the time, she said “it crumbled me inside” to watch Floyd die.

“It was devastating. It was horrible. It made me angry. It made me sad,” she said. “It brought back memories. I too, — you know, people forget that on the police department, as a Black officer we were Black before we came on the department. So we’ve seen some of the things that people are experiencing, and it’s also one of the reasons why a lot of us get on the department because we want to be a part of the change.”

That change is something Chattanooga city and police leaders want to continue to foster.

“We’ve tried to (become) an incredibly progressive department,” Chattanooga police spokesperson Sgt. Jeremy Eames said, adding that officers will expect her to continue that style of leadership.

It has been stressful being without a permanent chief for eight months, Eames said, so there is a “sense of relief in having someone in place just so that we can begin to get back to whatever normal is fixing to be.”