The Atlanta police chief who resigned last year after a high-profile police shooting has been hired to run the department in Louisville, Ky., a city still reeling from its own prominent shooting that helped fuel the outcry for police reform that became a defining factor of 2020.
The incoming chief, Erika Shields, will become the fourth police chief to lead the Louisville Metro Police Department since the death of Breonna Taylor in March, Mayor Greg Fischer announced on Wednesday. She will replace the city’s interim chief, Yvette Gentry, when she is sworn in on Jan. 19.
Ms. Shields will arrive in a city rife with racial tension that ballooned with the killing of Ms. Taylor and subsequent protests, which drew thousands of people this summer and fall. Much of the anger is still evident in Louisville today, nine months later, and activists said they will ramp up demonstrations in an effort to reinforce their demands for a transformation in the police force.
“Erika is definitely coming into chaos,” said Milly Martin, a political and social activist in Louisville. “Hopefully she can handle it.”
Ms. Shields served as Atlanta’s police chief for three and a half years, but resigned two days after a police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, in June. Officers had responded to a call reporting that Mr. Brooks was asleep in his car in a Wendy’s parking lot.
Her selection highlights the difficulty of filling police chief vacancies nationwide, particularly in troubled departments like Louisville where candidates cannot expect even the briefest of honeymoons. Seattle has yet to fill the vacancy left after Chief Carmen Best resigned in August. After the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, Baltimore churned through four commissioners before luring Michael Harrison away from New Orleans.
A host of qualified chiefs with progressive views, including Ms. Shields, have been sidelined after high-profile incidents of police violence, often sacrificed by elected officials looking for political cover. Many were focused on changing the culture in their departments, but hamstrung by contractual protections for bad officers, opposition from powerful unions, and a hands-off approach by the Justice Department under President Trump.
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SOURCE: The New York Times, Will Wright