Nearly a year after Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms named Rodney Bryant the interim police chief, she’s making him the department’s permanent leader.
“I don’t want there to be any question on whether or not I have confidence in the leadership of Chief Bryant,” Bottoms said. “While I know the men and women of this department respect him and know him, whether his title is interim or permanent, he’s leading every day. But I want to remove ‘interim’ as part of the conversion.”
The mayor made the announcement at a May 4 news conference at City Hall. Bryant’s appointment to permanent chief still needs to be approved by the city council, and that is expected to happen at its next meeting May 17. Bottoms, who is running for a second term, said she wants to wait until after the November election before possibly conducting a national search to replace him.
Bryant was named the interim chief in June following Chief Erika Shields’ resignation after two white officers were charged in the death of Rayshard Brooks, a Black suspect fatally shot by one officer while running from cops after escaping their custody during a DUI arrest.
Bryant, a 31-year veteran with the force, came out of retirement to become the interim chief. He had risen to the rank of assistant chief before retiring in 2019 and also served as the Atlanta Department of Corrections’ interim chief. Though reported murders in the city went up from 99 in 2019 to 157 last year, the largest amount since 1998, Bottoms defended the job Bryant has done thus far.
“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. “I think that is a ludicrous conversation because this COVID crime wave is being experienced across the country.”
Of his promotion, Bryant said, “Let me thank Mayor Bottoms for this opportunity and your confidence in me to lead this phenomenal police department. Additionally, I would like to thank the men and women of the Atlanta Police Department for also allowing me to lead. Then (thanks) for the confidence that I generally receive from the citizens we serve and the support as well as with city council.”
With his shift to permanent chief, Bryant announced plans for department changes aimed at reducing crime. First, the department is increasing its background and recruitment efforts to try to fill about 400 open police officer positions (the force has dropped from 2,000 officers during the Kasim Reed administration to about 1,600 this year).
Second, it’s revamping its repeat offender and domestic violence units, with the repeat offender issue being one that goes back at least a few years, and domestic violence cases going up dramatically since the pandemic started due to families being home more often.
Third, the police are restructuring the investigations unit and continuing to work with the Georgia State Patrol and Fulton County Sheriff’s Office to combat wide-ranging issues such as street racing.
The news conference also provided Bottoms and Bryant the opportunity to address recent crime issues, including nine shootings in a four-day period (April 29 through May 2) when 22 individuals were shot and four died, including Diamond Johnson, a 15-year-old girl.
“Despite the fact that APD has removed 2,000 guns from our streets and arrested more than 700 violent offenders, it’s still not enough,” Bottoms said. “And at some point, the responsibility has to be taken by all of us. APD responds to crime. …
“I wish I could wave a magic wand or give some speech to make it stop, but until we address the number of guns in the hands of criminals on our streets, and if I could do it from the city level alone I would, but until our state leaders take a look at the most lax gun laws we have in this country, and the way guns get into the hands of criminals, until that happens, I am so sad to say that this likely will not be the last time I stand here.”
A reporter asked the mayor how the city could get the state Legislature, which has approved pro-gun laws in recent years, including the open carry one that allows individuals to carry guns with them in certain public places if they have a permit.
“I want to make this clear. I don’t want anybody to twist this,” she said. “I’m not trying to take a gun out of the hand of a person who is lawfully entitled to carry a weapon. But I do not believe weapons of war have no place on our streets and in our communities. And it is frustrating. We know that the state is slowly but surely changing.
“So because it hasn’t been successful thus far doesn’t mean it can’t be successful one day. As we look at the challenges we’re having in our area, we know it’s not just Atlanta. Crime is up across the state in urban and rural communities. By and large, it’s gun violence. We all have to take a look at what we’re doing, what we’re doing incrementally, what small and large steps we can make.”
Bryant encouraged all residents who own guns to keep them at home, and if they must put them in their cars, lock them in a safe designed for vehicles. He added most of the time when criminals break into cars, it’s to steal weapons, not purses or wallets.
Bryant acknowledged that the department has lost officers lately because they are under extra scrutiny, partly due to the many instances of unarmed Black individuals being killed at the hands of white officers.
“We have many officers, as they’re on the front lines protecting this city, coming under attack from outside agitators,” he said. ”That wore down not just the officers but their families. ... But we also know that policing has to rebrand itself. We didn’t get it all right. We’ve messed up as a profession, so we have to fix that.”