Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed bid an emotional farewell to retiring Chief of Police George Turner in a press conference Thursday that also served as an introduction to the city’s new top cop Erika Shields.
“I want to thank you for all the nights that you took my calls,” Reed said to Turner, his eyes watering. “I want to thank you for your friendship. I want to thank you for your leadership. And I want to thank you for taking this journey with me.”
For Turner, stepping down will relieve some of the pressure he has felt in the past year. The chief said the loss of his daughter-in-law after a long bout with cancer earlier this year has been painful for his family and his son, Tim Turner, a member of the APD force.
“My intent is to really try to help him to be a single father and to get back to the work he loves so desperately, being an Atlanta police officer,” Turner said, his voice sometimes quivering.
Reed announced Wednesday that Turner would be stepping down after 35 years with the Atlanta Police Department, including the last six years as police chief.
Turner, who earns $240,697 annually, will be paid for any unused earned vacation or annual leave and compensatory time as well as a pension, the mayor’s office said Thursday. The city did not say how much that would be.
Shields, the department’s deputy police chief, will take the top job Dec. 28. A 21-year veteran of the force, she will be the second woman in the role in the department’s history following Beverly Harvard’s appointment in 1994. Shields will be paid an annual salary of 200,211, the city said.
When asked how being a woman might impact her job, Shields said to laughs in the room, “I don’t think the challenges I will face will be gender based. I think they will be criminal/crime based.”
She also declined to answer a question about what her priorities would be in her first 100 days in office. She said Chief Turner is in charge until the end of the month and would wait until his term is complete before making decisions.
Reed said Shields proved her depth as a leader in many ways over the years, but singled out her support of his and Turner’s efforts to help Atlanta’s gay, lesbian and transgender community heal after the deadly shooting this summer at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with Deputy Police Chief Shields,” Reed said. “I know that she has been trained by Chief Turner and so I have a high comfort level.”
The appointment of a new chief comes near the end of Reed’s second term as mayor. Atlantans will elect a new mayor in November and the winner traditionally brings in a new senior team, including police chief.
Reed said he looked at five candidates to replace Turner, all of whom were APD staff.
“Given where we are and the instability of the current environment overall, we did not have 90 days to spend on a search,” Reed said. “I also think it sends another message … that we should be training and hiring from within.”
Turner was interim police chief for six months before Reed gave him the job permanently in mid-2010, the mayor’s first year in office. It culminated an APD career that began in 1981, at a time when beat cops still carried nightsticks (“We don’t carry nightsticks anymore,” Turner said Thursday. “We now deploy our officers with some of the most advanced technology in the country.”)
He worked his way up, overseeing APD’s human resources department, leading the recruitment unit and commanding the Zone 1 precinct in northwest Atlanta. He later became deputy chief, often filling in as the face of the department for former Chief Richard Pennington, who maintained a low profile.
When he took the reins of the department, crime was up, police morale was low and its cruiser fleet was in shambles, Turner said. Overall crime has fallen 27 percent since he took office, he and Reed said.
While crime overall is down through the end of last month compared to 2015, murders are up 14 percent compared to a year earlier and 25 percent from 2009, according to statistics.
“I think we are one of the premiere organizations in this nation,” Turner said.
City Councilmembers praised Turner with Andre Dickens saying he did an outstanding job while Michael Julian Bond called him “a policeman’s policeman.”
City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, who is one of several people running to succeed Reed as mayor, welcomed Shields as the new chief on behalf of the body. “We have full confidence that she will continue to lead with the spirit of excellence set forth by her predecessor,” he wrote in a statement.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, another council member running for mayor, praised Shields’ work ethic, community dedication and responsiveness. She said she would consider retaining Shields as chief if elected.
“Hopefully that is a decision I will have to make,” Bottoms said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed named Erika Shields the city’s new chief of police on Thursday to replace retiring top cop George Turner. Here’s some things about her:
Joined APD: 1995
Ranks on the force: patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and major prior to her appointment as deputy chief.
Duties as deputy chief: Managing department’s day-to-day operations, including $168 million budget, Training Academy and E-911 Center.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from Webster University; Master’s in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University.