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Atlanta Inquirer Exclusive Talk with Atlanta Police Chief Rodney N. Bryant, 2022-03-08

On March 8, 2022, The Atlanta Inquirer had an exclusive interview with Atlanta Police Chief Rodney N. Bryant.

Full Video:



Atlanta Police Chief Rodney Bryant:

I went to Sylvan High School [graduated in 1985] and grew up in the Therrell neighborhood; I lived at 2328 Campbellton Road.

Atlanta Inquirer News Reporter Hal Lamar:

How long have you been with the Atlanta Police Department (APD)?

Chief RB:

I came on [to the APD] in 1988.

I went to Georgia State while I was on the police department. Originally, I went to Fort Valley State, and then I took a sabbatical and came up here and got on the police department and recognized I needed to complete my education. So, I went back [to college] to Georgia State.


How did you happen to decide to become a police officer?

Chief RB:

I think, in the back of my mind, that level of service always was there.

Truly, I was like probably every other young kid at that time and thought that I would be a rich businessman, but there was always a desire to do policing or some level of public service.

In 1987, I went and filled out my application to be a policeman and was hired in January 1988.


Where were you initially assigned through?

Chief RB:

Zone 3 was my first assignment.

And that was a different Zone 3 in 1988. I think I left there [Zone 3] in 1997.

It was completely different Zone 3. We had housing projects throughout the city, primarily throughout zone 3.

[Comparing violent city of today to a violent city then:]

What people deemed to be a violent city now… it was much more violent then.

Living in housing projects… Carver Homes, Jonesboro, South Jonesboro, North [Jonesboro], Englewood, Edgewood… all those places where violence was known to be in those communities. So, it was a difference.


So, you are no stranger to knowing what needs to be done and what was being done at the time.

Chief RB:

Yeah. So, I’ve seen the evolution of policing. I’ve seen the evolution of our communities, building closer together. And, then, in times of strain, we separate it a little bit, but we eventually come back together to get the job done.

And, we are most effective when we are working collaboratively.

So, yeah, you will see the rise in fall violence in our community where our society is going through its issues.

When something new hits…

In the 80s and 90s, we were dealing with crack cocaine. That was our pandemic. It was clearly a pandemic to certain communities and we didn’t know how to address it then.

We used enforcement to deal with that problem. We recognize now that that wasn’t the right way to fix that. And we found ourselves now dealing with another pandemic and people are looking for pollution to fix that problem. And, again, I caution how we do it.

I think that we have to be more pragmatic about how we address the issues that we’re seeing today.


How can the Atlanta public help? I’ve been writing and broadcasting for 51 years, and I worked very closely with a lot of police back in the day. And one of the things that I remember we did with great cooperation between particularly Black radio stations, Black newspapers and police. It was nothing for them to call in and grab us and put us in police cars, and say, ‘Look, we want you all to do this or that.’ We worked very closely with detectives, those kinds of individuals.

But what can we do first, as the media, in terms of helping?

We’re both from Atlanta. We know Atlanta. At least, I think we do. We’re born and raised here, grew

up here, in public schools. And, we’ve seen a change, too.

So, how do we get it or can we ever get it back to what it used to be?

Chief RB:

So, it’s interesting that you would say get it back to…

I don’t think we’re trying to get back to anything. I think what we need to do is to move forward, be a more progressive community.

As I stated, we had issues then.

It’s just more prevalent now with social media. Everybody’s a news reporter.

In the 90s, we had 250 homicides in the city of Atlanta.

That was commonplace, to be honest with you.

But what you didn’t have… you only had a few radio, television stations, a couple of radio stations, and if you didn’t get that information, you just didn’t report on it.

But now everybody got a camera, cell phone; they can take it and report it, and they put it up on social media.

And now everybody can go to it.

My understanding is, as I remember, as I was told, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution used to have over 200-something reporters. They are down to less than seventy now because of everybody else, somebody else is able to get that information out.

And, so, it appears that it’s more prevalent than it was then, but it’s not.

So, I don’t want to get back to where we were. What I want to do is move forward and be more progressive and say we got to address true issues, real problems in our community, and quit throwing law enforcement at our social ills of our communities. That’s not the right answer.

It’s like going to the doctor, using the doctor, giving you the wrong prescription, giving you penicillin for everything; that doesn’t fix it; works on certain things, but doesn’t fix everything.

And, so, I think what we have to understand is, like right now, we always saw violence in our youth… that’s just being honest. We’ve always seen violence in our youth.

We see it more now because we have the ability to see more now.

What I think we need to do… the police department has been in the space of doing what it’s been doing forever.

We got to put something else. We need more people to address the issues that we’re seeing.

Atlanta Inquirer Publisher / Editor John B. Smith Jr.:

And you mentioned the violence from our youth and everything.

What do you see as the causes of those and maybe what can we do to help alleviate that? Has COVID helped to multiply that?

Chief RB:

I will be honest with you, I used to say COVID was a problem, and I think that COVID had some impact on it.

But I saw COVID elevate more in communities of challenge and more minority communities than they did in any other.

And, so, when you’re looking at the same thing I’m looking at on social media, you see our youth are the ones that are fighting.

Why? Why is it affecting our youth differently than it affects any other figure?

And we have to say, well, we need to address that differently.


So, we’re seeing racial disparity is what we’re saying.

Chief RB:

And we need to address it differently. Now, again, I think that there are a number of things, education and economic, social ills of the community plays into that. And if it does, how do we fix that?

We need to fix that.

You keep putting this band-aid, using the law enforcement as a band aid to fix the problem, and it’s not the right problem.

Yea, it’ll slow down bleeding and do certain things, but if we’re not addressing the true ills of our communities, then we’re going to always be here.


And that’s a larger problem than law enforcement.

Chief RB:

Right. Very few entities are addressing that issue. When you have fighting in school, the first thing is, well, we need more police officers in school to curb the violence that we’re seeing in school.

No, that’s not what we really need.

We need something to figure out why we see violence in these schools. And, then, let’s address the underlying factors as it relates to it. The police are here to address the issues that we can’t resolve.

When people are violating, when they are violating the law, when people are at that position where we

can intercede before they can do something wrong.

But when it is built up the violence that some of the violence that we’re seeing where husband kills a wife and brothers kill each other, that’s beyond the police control. That’s something else that needed to be addressed and we’re missing that.

And I think that we have to do a better job of identifying those ills that we’re seeing in our community.

And, in fact, if not, we’re going to be here. There’ll be another group at this table thirty years from now having this exact same conversation saying, ‘What can we do?’

But as we are having this conversation, I think that we should have ministers, school teachers, social workers, and medical professions sitting at this table saying we have a real problem in certain communities; what is it that we can do collectively?

Because if sugar is the only ingredient you’re putting in the pie, then you got a sugar pie. You need something else.

So that’s what I’m saying. No one entity can fix the problems that we’re seeing. We need a collective group being held as just as responsible as I am.


Well, have there been any efforts of some collective groups? I know the [Atlanta] Mayor’s office is trying to do some things.

Chief RB:

Absolutely. The [Atlanta] Mayor is working on another initiative. But see, this is what you hear me say, government can’t do it by itself. You’ve got to have people that are as committed to carrying as much water as the government. You’ve got to. Because, now, if the government’s priorities change, we will still have our issues.


I had a question about something that was brought up at the Martin Luther King Jr. and Joseph E. Lowery meeting [City of Atlanta Public Safety community meeting hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive – Ashby Street Merchants Association on February 21, 2022]. The foot patrol or beat patrol… there’s an effort to re-establish?

Chief RB:

Yeah, I would like to. Once we are able to get our resources back up to a place where we can implement foot patrol, I’ll be glad to do it. We’re heading in that direction.


You think that was effective in the past?



Chief RB:

I think that again, when you put police officers more ingrained in the community, the community is able to share more information. It’s not a matter of just the presence of subsiding crime. It’s the ability that now you got people working collectively to address an issue.

The community, police officers are right there day to day.

And now I know Ms. Mary… Ms. Mary is more apt to give me information about little Johnny who’s been busting these car windows out at night. And until you are able to build that relationship, that’s what it would take. But we got to like every other human service profession, we were on a rebuild.

Doctors, nurses. You can’t go to the restaurant now without waiting because they don’t have the servers to service you. And, so, we’re seeing the effects of every other human service profession.

But we’re on the verge to improve and it and so I anticipate that once we get our resources back up to full strength, we will be able to implement those foot patrols.


Did you ever have any thought about not taking this job?

I used to talk to George Turner [former Atlanta Chief of Police, 2010-2016] about that.

Chief RB:

You know, when I asked, it wasn’t much thought. My whole profession has been to service. My whole adult life has been to service, and it’s been around this profession. And, so, when the Mayor asked and I know this police department, I really didn’t, but I don’t think it was any different for me than it would have been for any other police officer.

This is the job that we know that it’s a dangerous job and people are committed to doing their part, and, so, that’s what hit me. I had the training and the skillset to take on this role. I had the people that over the years that gave me everything the tools needed to take on this role at the time.


Does it help being a native son?

Chief RB:


Atlanta is unique.

I don’t think that is by circumstance that most of the mayors that have come out this city are from this city because we are unique, and most of the chiefs have come from this city as well. So, Atlanta is prideful as it relates to who they trust, to lead them in government and to have an understanding of how communities

work, what’s important to certain communities. You have to be here for a while.

You won’t learn it over a few couple of days, nor years. You got to grow up here and know what ‘Pittsburgh’ means, what ‘Mechanicsville’ means, what ‘Reynoldstown’ means, what ‘Buckhead’ means. You got to know.

And what’s important to them is what’s important to the ‘West End’ may differ from what’s important to ‘Reynoldstown.’ Public safety is the same, but how they want to be treated may be a little different.

It may be a little different.

You got to go in and know history. You got to know why certain people don’t want to leave their communities because they’ve been there. They were raised there.

You got to understand the history of Campbellton Road. I grew up there, so I know how things are.

I tell you… I tell this joke all of time…

I grew up in the city of Atlanta, but during the 70s and 80s, I was quite sheltered and didn’t know that we had all these different neighborhoods. And I remember my first time on the street stopping a guy, and he told me he’s from ‘Pittsburgh’… we were in ‘Mechanicsville.’ I said, ‘Man, what are you doing way down here?’ Not knowing that he was right across the tracks from his house.

But you’ve got to be here to know that. You’ve got to be from Atlanta to know these things.


How long do you want to stay?

Chief RB:

As long as I’m affected and as long as I have the energy. When you wake up, I think everybody knows when

it’s time, when you don’t have the energy or when there’s nothing else that you can pour into. It doesn’t mean that you can’t go somewhere else. If you build a house and you recognize there’s no more I can do to this house, I can either build another house or I can remodel another. I built this one to the standard and it’s time for me to move on.

And somebody else can come in and say, well, we can add on and do a whole bunch more, make it more efficient than what the original person did, and I get it.

So, I’ll stay as long as I’m effective and efficient and the Mayor needs me, the city needs me.

But when we all when one of the three of us recognizes that we need something different, we want something

different then that’s when the change will come.


[Atlanta Mayor] Andre [Dickens] is a native son like us, so I would imagine it’s got comfortable working with him, too, because he grew up the SWATS [Southwest Atlanta] just like you.

Chief RB:


JBSJr and HL:

Well, thank you so much. Thank you very much, chief, for your time. We appreciate you. If you need something from us, let us know.

Chief RB:

You asked me a question [earlier]: What I need from the media?

What I need from the media is truth without any sensationalism, because when you sensationalize our problems, it distracts from what our real issues are and we have never fixed the true problems.

We can’t run from what we’re seeing.

And I think that you’ll find people that come in and… you saw what was happening when people were talking

about defund and the police. What that would have done to our community if that would have happened? I get it that there are other things that our community needs and I’m in full support of it. But if you take what is vital, what is important to our community now and don’t put anything in place, it’ll cripple our community.

It will make it worse. And we almost were there, and I think that we were almost there.

I think people just didn’t know… people caught onto what was mainstream at the time as opposed to listening to the true voices of the community to hear what their concerns really are. And I think that’s what you need from the media to say. What is it that you all are saying? Not the thing that makes the news, but knock on these doors and talk to these people who’ve been living in these communities for a long time, and, ask them, ‘What is it that you think you need more in your community?

Last updated on March 15, 2022

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