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Atlanta police chief Turner retires; replacement to be named Thursday

After more than three decades on the force, Atlanta Police Chief George Turner is stepping down as the city’s top cop.

A replacement for Turner will be named Thursday by Mayor Kasim Reed to fill out the remainder of Reed’s second term, which ends next year.

“Since his appointment as police chief six years ago, George Turner has served as a vital member of my cabinet,” Reed said in a statement.

Reed said he wished Turner well and deeply appreciated the chief’s commitment to the city and its residents.“Under his leadership, we have made significant progress toward our goal of making Atlanta one of the safest large cities in America.”

The news comes as the city has lauded an overall decrease in crime, but the department has struggled in other areas, such as pay to meet Atlanta’s rising housing costs and struggles to recruit new officers.

Turner in recent weeks also found his authorization of officers to use emergency lights and sirens when escorting Reed caught up in allegations Reed used them inappropriately to cut through traffic when late for meetings.

Turner, a 35-year APD veteran, served as Reed’s Interim Chief of Police for seven months before being promoted by the newly-elected mayor to the job full-time in mid 2010.

“It has been a pleasure working under Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration,” Turner said in a statement. “Mayor Reed has played a major role in the success of the Atlanta Police Department and none of this would have been possible without his leadership.”

Born at Grady Memorial Hospital and raised in Perry Homes, Turner’s ties to his hometown run deep. He joined APD in 1981 at a time when the crime rate was soaring.

He worked his way up the ladder, serving as former Mayor Andrew Young’s driver on a security detail, overseeing APD’s human resources department, leading the recruitment unit and commanding the Zone 1 precinct in northwest Atlanta.

Turner was promoted to deputy chief, but his pathway to department’s top spot was blocked in 2002 when Richard Pennington was recruited from New Orleans, where he was hailed as an innovative crime-fighter. Turner, meanwhile, applied for a chief’s job in Fort Worth but didn’t get it.

Pennington and Atlanta proved to be poor fit. Pennington maintained a low public profile, often sending Turner to speak in his place. Morale was “the worst I’ve seen in 17 years,” said Sgt. Scott Kreher, then the head of Atlanta’s police union.

Pennington stepped down in 2009 following a string of high-profile murders, including the fatal shootings of Grant Park bartender John Henderson and former world champion boxer Vernon Forest, which contributed to making crime one of the biggest issue in that year’s mayoral election. He was criticized in published reports for being seemingly aloof to constituent’s concerns, saying a “perception of crime” was driving fears.

After Reed appointed him chief, Turner reassigned a number of high-ranking officers on his first day on the job and made a point of being more accessible and visible than his predecessor.

Mirroring the trends in other big cities, crime continued to drop across nearly all categories during the first few years of his term, but murders have been on the rise. 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.

Pay and attrition remain an issue for the Atlanta force, if not for Turner, who received more than $80,000 in a payout in 2013 for unused vacation, money that boosted his pension.

Earlier this month the department received a $900,000 donation from the Georgia Power Foundation to purchase protective helmets and vests for beat officers for the first time in police department history.

“All of the tactical units will have them so they can don them when the situation arises, “Turner beamed during the announcement.

Over the past few weeks, however, he has been criticized by some over his defense of officers in Reed’s security detail. Officers have been accused of speeding Reed to meetings using sirens and “blue lights,” which on one occasion resulted in an accident.

A director at the International Brotherhood of Police Officers has called the practice illegal in non-emergency situations..

Turner said he has given Reed’s detail the authority to use lights and sirens at their discretion because of threats against the mayor.

“My job as the police chief is to protect our mayor and his family and that’s what we’re going to do,” Turner said.

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