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Atlanta Police Chief talks APD morale, city crime ahead of retirement in June

11Alive sat down with Chief Rodney Bryant on Wednesday for a 1-on-1 interview ahead of his retirement in early June

ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta is in need of a new police chief as current Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant tells 11Alive he will retire during the first week of June.

For Bryant, an Atlanta native who began working with APD in 1988, it will be his second retirement.

Bryant said he never planned or saw himself becoming chief, but left retirement early in the pandemic after conversations with then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.  

“When you get a call from the mayor saying I need your assistance in leading the police department that you grew up in, for the city you grew up in, there is only one answer for that," Bryant said Wednesday. 

Bryant became chief in 2020 following the resignation of Chief Erika Shields. 

Shields, Chief George Turner before her, and Bryant represent the last 12 years of police chiefs in Atlanta. Each had worked with APD for at least two decades and knew the city inside and out before leading the department.

Bryant said whether current Mayor Andre Dickens wants the next chief to fit that trend or be an outsider with fresh eyes is a decision the mayor needs to make. 

Bryant said most importantly though the next chief must have a good working relationship with the mayor. 

“It isn’t a significance of one chief or the other. I mean clearly, you want the best person that is out there, but it is also relying on how you sync with the mayor and his administration," Bryant said.

Bryant said his relationship with the mayor includes a phone call every morning to discuss crime in the city. The chief said while the city's top cop and mayor usually have regular conversations, the daily phone call is unique.

"The type of conversations we have are addressing violence issues that we may see throughout the city, types of things that a lot of people may not see are concerning to him," Bryant said. "Our conversation every day is about 8-8:30. We have a conversation about what we are seeing around crime and what our strategies are to address it."

Currently, crime in Atlanta includes an increase in violence. 

Since 2021, the latest data from APD shows homicides are up 59 percent and rapes have increased 54 percent. Robberies and car thefts are each down 16 and 18 percent respectively. 

Bryant said to address violent crime his department is working with federal partners and has launched new programs to tackle issues with repeat offenders and gang violence. 

APD recently reported that 1,000 people are responsible for 40 percent of the crimes in Atlanta and on Tuesday Fulton County District Attorney said 75 to 80 of crimes in Fulton County can be linked to gangs. 

"One of the things we clearly recognize in the City of Atlanta is there is a proliferation of weapons. So, we are working with the ATF to be able to tighten up on that streamline on guns getting into the hands of criminals and people that shouldn't have them. It is going to play a big factor in what we do going forward," Bryant said. "As long as we continue to partner, have strong strategies, it will have an influence on what we are seeing.”  

Bryant took over as chief at a time in 2020 when police officers and police union representatives told 11Alive morale within the department was at a record low. 

It was in the middle of a period of civil unrest when several APD officers had been charged with excessive force in connection with multiple unrelated incidents. 

After officers were charged dozens of officers called out for shifts as part of a so-called "Blue Flu." 

During Bryant's tenure, officers have told 11Alive morale is on the rebound. Bryant said he also believes the department is turning a corner when it comes to morale. 

“I know it is improving by the people that I talk to," he said. "I see the efforts of their work, seeing us come together on different things outside of policing. It gives me an idea of where we are, just having conversations with our guys. Some of the things that I’ve done to ensure that this leadership isn’t separated from the men and women that are out there every day is I require the command staff to go out there in the zones.”  

Bryant said he makes it a point to also be present in the city's zones and often wears the same navy blue-colored uniform his officers wear. 

As he prepares to retire in early June, there are high-profile cases APD is investigating that grabbed the city's attention but remain unsolved.

One case is the mysterious murder in 2021 of 12-year-old David Mack in southwest Atlanta.

Another is the brutal murder last summer of 40-year-old Katie Janness in Piedmont Park

While suspects haven't been identified in either case, Bryant said his detectives though are continuing to investigate each case to make sure the cases don't become cold cases, with the ultimate goal of closing each case with arrests.

“I think a lot of time people rest on the fact that we resolve so many cases so quickly and they think the reality is all of them should be handled that way," Bryant said. "The reality is sometimes they take time. There are times when it might take years for us to resolve a case. It's not that we don't have an idea or a suspect, but for us to have a solid case, we have to make sure we do our due diligence within the means of the law to get that person into custody."  

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