Former Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell

Article by Lashley

“The Lion of the City”

Retired Atlanta Police Chief Eldrin Bell visited the Atlanta City Hall to receive a proclamation. The award was presented to him by Council Members Andrea Boon and Michael Julien Bond. Mr. Bell saw Monday, March 4th, 2024, as pivotal in his life’s journey. He saw gratitude in that moment; he saw elements of the legacy of his journey with the city.

Mr. Bell said, “when I got to City Hall and saw the number of people that were there for me, I felt extraordinarily good. Not just for me, but on behalf of all my people. In my tenure and beyond, I observed such growth in all my staff. I owed as much gratitude to them and the way that they were able to use their training.” 

Council Member Bond said, “I saw firsthand how people showed love to Chief Bell when he was on the streets. In my younger years, he would always counsel when he met us on the street; he would always encourage us to be on the straight and narrow. When you look at his time as Police Chief in Atlanta, it’s fair to say that Chief Bell exhibited courage and an admiral love for the City of Atlanta. He was known as a cop’s cop and played an important role in lowering the temperature of fear during the period of the Atlanta Child Murders. His popularity in the city was widespread.”

Mr. Bell joined the Atlanta Police force in 1961, and by the time he retired in 1994, the representation of policing in the city had gone through considerable changes.

Chief Bell said, “It was challenging when I joined the force. People on the outside were saying that it was an integrated force, but it really was not. There was a lot of work to be done to truly bring us to that status.” In reality, it was a segregated institution with the majority of officers being White males. I remember the first time that I was arresting a white man. He turned, looked me in the eyes, and said, “You cannot arrest a White man”; Black police cannot arrest white people.

That’s the way things were in earlier times. There were different values attached to the recognition of law enforcement. Change was slowly moving through the city.  There was a lot of work to be done to get to an integrated space. This was the south, where the Voting Rights Act was not too far away in the past, and this was a society that was not used to being under the enforcement of law, with Black people in authoritative control, and this was also new for most Black people in the South. The law was changing, and we had to be on top of things to accommodate those changes in the streets. During the period that I was in office, training for my officers was one of my highest priorities.

Mr. Bell noted that when he became Chief, he felt that the women on the force were being left behind, but they set the curve wherever they went. He immediately went into action to rectify this situation. The number of female officers on the force were increased, and their value in work had to be fully respected. We could not allow for uneven treatment of groups in the departments, we all needed to be at ease. There could not be any sexism or harassment amongst the ranks; they had to be addressed as officers, not by any nicknames. Training became a large part of the changing narrative of what law enforcement meant and represented in the city.

Chief Darin Schierbaum called Chief Bell, “The Lion” of the Atlanta Police Department. He explained that the legacy of the Chief still lives in the departments of the force. He went on to thank Mr. Bell for being the legacy maker that he was.

The wife of a Civil Rights activist said that in the sixties, Mr. Bell would sit in his car around the corner of the mass gatherings; ensuring that no violence occurred. The Civil Rights activist was always living with continuous threats to their life.

Chief Bell said, “When I received the plaque at City Hall, it was the highest reward in my lifetime. My grandfather used to tell me that the bottom was not made for me, and this was the most important award that I have received. From my observation, the city has grown, and the laws keep changing. That leaves the challenge for the force to meet the demands of the city, county and state. Policing is a multidimensional line of responsibility; it’s sensitive to politics and the courts and these change constantly. Atlanta has been on a path that has been better for its people.”

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