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Tough Cop Named Police Chief in Atlanta

August 21, 1990

ATLANTA (AP) _ A bust-heads, tell-it-to-the-judge cop survived two demotions to become police chief in the city with the nation’s highest crime rate.

Mayor Maynard Jackson appointed Eldrin Bell on Monday, declaring, ″Eldrin Bell is exactly what the doctor ordered.″

Despite reservations by some city officials about Bell’s alleged lack of respect for the law, the City Council, meeting minutes later, dispensed with the usual confirmation process and unanimously approved the appointment.

″We don’t need to be messing around,″ said Council President Marvin S. Arrington. ″We need to put him on the job.″

Bell, one of three deputy chiefs on the 1,600-member force, takes over a police department with a big job in this city of about 445,000.

In 1989, Atlanta reported 210 serious crimes for each 1,000 residents - worst among U.S. cities with a population of 300,000 or more, according to the FBI. It was the second straight year Atlanta posted the worst crime rate.

″Let the word go forth,″ the 54-year-old Bell said at a news conference. ″Lawlessness and drug trafficking and gangs are not welcome in Atlanta. Atlanta will not tolerate this kind of lawlessness.″

Bell, who succeeds retiring Chief Morris Redding, stands to become the city’s most powerful police chief in nearly 16 years. The mayor eliminated a commissioner post superior to the police and fire chiefs earlier this year.

Bell, who has what the mayor called ″a well-deserved reputation as a tough cop,″ got little support from the man he replaced.

Redding, who served eight years as chief, rated Bell’s ″dependability and moral standards as low,″ although he said Bell is a hard worker.

Randolph W. Thrower, who heads the city Ethics Board, said Bell ″does not reflect great respect for ethical considerations.″

Hilary L. Chiz, executive director for the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she had some concerns, but the ACLU wanted to work with the new chief ″on developing ways to deal with the very serious issues of crime without encroaching further on individual freedom.″

Bell, 54, has served on the force for 29 years and twice was demoted from deputy chief.

In 1979, he was busted to major because of an investigation of police protection for gamblers at fairgrounds where Bell did security work. No charges were filed and he was reinstated.

In 1985, he was again demoted, to lieutenant, after he was among patrons at an Italian restaurant where invited guests were targets of an FBI drug sting. It was determined that Bell hadn’t been invited and wasn’t under investigation.

Bell once reportedly picked up a billy club, phoned for an ambulance, entered a crowded bar and fought seven suspects into submission. He was investigated in 1984 for pistol-whipping a motorist he had stopped, but a civilian panel, police board and a federal court cleared him of using excessive force.

As commander of a crime-ridden section of the city, he was known for patrolling streets himself in the middle of the night and popping in unannounced at headquarters to make sure the night shift was answering calls promptly.

Bell also was questioned in a 1975 promotion exam cheating scandal. Investigators concluded he wasn’t involved but may have known about the cheating.

Thrower, who headed the investigation, said Bell’s evasiveness and failure to cooperate ″thwarted justice.″

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