Police chiefs in Atlanta, Louisville, Milwaukee and Portland have resigned, been fired or demoted recently. In some cases, departures were prompted by deaths or other high-profile incidents. Chiefs everywhere understand they’re under far greater scrutiny after the death of George Floyd, the wave of anti-racism, and policing protests that followed, reports Governing. “There is a movement in this nation … to remove the teeth of the police,” says Tim Altomare, who stepped down as police chief of Anne Arundel County, Md. “It is wrong and it will have grave and lasting effects that you will see and feel.” Police supporters argue that hostility toward law enforcement and budget cuts are contributing to an increase in homicides in major cities.
It’s the places most intent on changing police practices that are putting the greatest pressure on their chiefs. That makes it almost certain that more chiefs will call it quits. In the end, police chiefs themselves will be the ones who implement any new policies that activists or the general public want. Demanding greater accountability is at the root of police reform, but chiefs require political support if they’re expected to change the culture and practices of their departments. Brandon del Pozo, former chief of the Burlington, Vt., police, says, “Progressive cities are alluring to progressive chiefs because they provide a canvas for reform, but what we’re seeing right now … is progressive cities are relentlessly unforgiving to progressive chiefs.” The average big-city police chief is lucky to last five years. Baltimore is on its fifth police commissioner since Freddie Gray died in police custody in 2015. Oakland, Ca., has gone through a dozen chiefs in two decades.