Interim Police Chief Asks Atlanta Officers To Return, As Some Call Out Sick

Atlanta Police Department Interim Chief Rodney Bryant implores officers to return to work after many of them call out sick following criminal charges issued in Rayshard Brooks shooting.

Lisa Hagen / WABE

The Atlanta Police Department’s interim chief Rodney Bryant called a press conference Saturday that appeared to be aimed primarily at his own employees.

Rumors began swirling this week about APD officers calling out sick after two officers were criminally charged for the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks. 

“I implore you to channel your concerns for your fellow officers, by having their back. At this moment, I implore you to remember why you became a police officer. We did not choose this line of work because it was easy,” Bryant said. 

“We became officers because we wanted to help people in distress, make a difference in our communities, and simply serve and protect.” 

Bryant confirmed again that a “higher than average”  number of officers have called in sick this past week. The agency has yet to share the exact number, but Bryant added that department resources had to shift to cover the shortage. He said at least nine officers have resigned since June.  

“The explanations for calling out sick vary, and include officers questioning their training, officers being challenged and attacked and unease about officers seeing their colleagues criminally charged so quickly,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he was shocked by the charges issued by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

“What happened is, I got a call right before the press conference itself saying that charges were being brought,” said Bryant. “I was surprised the DA would get to that conclusion that fast.”  

Earlier this week, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released a statement that it too was not aware or consulted on the charges made by Howard’s office. The GBI says it’s continuing its investigation, which was requested by the APD, despite the district attorney’s charges.

Former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields had sent an internal email to department employees about another set of charges against six APD officers. She had already fired two of them and placed another three on desk duty after the aggressive arrest of two college students was filmed live by news crews. 

“Yes, it sucks, and I am beyond discouraged,” wrote Shields, in the email leaked to WSB-TV. “This does not mean for a moment that I will sit quietly by and watch our employees get swept up in the tsunami of political jockeying during an election year.”

Less than two weeks later, Shields resigned in the wake of APD Officer Garret Rolfe shooting and killing 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks as he ran from the scene of his arrest with one of the officers’ tasers. 

Asked how APD’s current relationship is with the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, Bryant answered simply: “We have to work together.” 

“What is immediately evident is that officers feel ordinary and due process steps and usual investigation of complaints against them have been abandoned. And some are questioning how to execute what has been taught to them,” Bryant said.  

Last week, the Atlanta Police Foundation gave the APD more than $2 million to distribute to active officers as $500 bonuses. 

Bryant said he’s proposed a plan to stand up teams within APD’s office of professional standards that would quickly investigate “certain complex complaints.” He said the department would also begin reviewing its training program and expand sections on de-escalation, implicit bias, and peer intervention.