The once-prestigious position of police chief might be the nation’s most precarious job now. The risks are particularly high for those whose mission is reform, the New York Times reports. “You can do everything right and have one officer, one night, do something — and all of a sudden your career is upside down,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. The group often helps find chiefs for cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore and now, Louisville, where Chief Steven Conrad was fired this month after a shooting incident that left the owner of a popular barbecue stand dead. Erika Shields, who quit Saturday as Atlanta’s chief after officers fatally shot a man in a Wendy’s parking lot, joined a long and growing line of progressive, reform-minded police chiefs who have stepped down or been fired, often after high-profile episodes of police violence. Chiefs now face fundamental questions over not just how they police, but why.
Baltimore is on its fifth commissioner since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd died, Chief Medaria Arradondo has largely escaped calls to resign. His predecessor, Janeé Harteau, was pushed out after Justine Ruszczyk was fatally shot by an officer after calling police to report a possible sexual assault. “We are held accountable, but unions aren’t,” she says. Frank Straub, former public safety director in Indianapolis and former chief in Spokane, Wa., said reformers brought in from outside do not expect to last long. “We’re brought in to shock the system,” he said. Straub, now at the National Police Foundation, said the rank-and-file welcomed the opportunity to become more professional, but the brass opposed him. He was unable to assemble his own command team or remove people from leadership positions.