Just two weeks ago Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields was hailed as a nationwide hero for calmly walking into an angry crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters and calming a tense situation. Today, in the wake of the police killing of 27 year-old Rayshard Brooks she is out of a job. She submitted her resignation over the weekend.
Todays New York Times contains an article that describes how the position of Chief of Police has become increasingly tenuous in the current climate of racial tension and widespread calls for comprehensive reform of policing in the United States. The article describes a work climate where police chiefs are caught between the demands of the public and the powerful police unions. In many cases Chiefs lack the power to discipline or fire bad officers. If they support officers in order to maintain morale and respect in the organization they are vilified in the media and political arena. If they try to crack down on offenders they run into opposition from the rank and file and the unions.
In the case of the recent Atlanta police shooting it was announced that an officer, Garrett Rolfe, had been fired after he fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, on Friday night, and another officer, Devin Brosnan, had been placed on administrative duty. On Saturday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had called for the immediate firing of the officer who opened fire on Brooks and announced that she had accepted the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields.
Brooks was seen as a symbol of the new Police Chief. Before joining the Atlanta Police as a patrol officer in 1995, Chief Shields worked as a stockbroker in Boston. She is the second woman to lead the Atlanta Police Department, and the first openly gay person to do so. Shields has a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from Webster University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo University.
Police Chiefs have been recently fired in Louisville, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland and Spokane. Frank Straub, who was fired in Spokane, said reformers brought in from the outside to clean up police departments, do not expect to last long.” We’re brough in to shock the system,” he said. “In some cities the way the labour contracts are written, you have to promote from within. What does that do? It just perpetuates the system that’s already in place.”