A closer look at the “Blue Flu”: More than half of Atlanta’s beat cops missed work after ex-officer charged with murder of Rayshard Brooks
By Sean Keenan
Soon after Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced felony murder charges would be brought against former Atlanta Police officer Garrett Rolfe, the man who shot and killed 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks outside an intown Wendy’s restaurant, most of the mobile troops on the city’s police force didn’t show up for their shifts.
It was the so-called “Blue Flu.” Atlanta police called out of work in staggering numbers in an apparent protest against the legal response to Rolfe’s June 12 interaction with Brooks. More than 61 percent of Atlanta beat cops missed work on June 17, the day Howard brought charges against Rolfe, and more than 65 percent were absent on June 18. By June 19, the demonstration started to taper off, with about 51 percent calling out then and about 33 percent gone on June 20, according to APD roll call documents from the department’s six police zones.
Many officers excused their absence at roll call as holiday or vacation time; others claimed sickness or personal issues, among other reasons. It’s unclear exactly how many officers abandoned their shifts in protest, although Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant admitted the amount of officers calling in sick was “higher than average.”
The numbers, however, show a reality far more severe.
More than 96 percent of the Zone 6 morning shift on June 18 was absent. On June 19, the Zone 5 day shift was more than 86 percent deserted. The morning prior, roughly 82 percent of Zone 3 police missed work.
Zone 6 seemed the most impacted by the strike, averaging more than 20 officers absent during each shift between June 17 and June 20. To put that in perspective, the typical zone staffs about 31 officers per shift, according to the roll call records.
Police officials have not yet responded to an inquiry regarding whether officers are showing up in normal numbers now.
The supposed protest spotlights a growing divide between police who see abruptly charging Rolfe with murder as an affront to the profession and those who hope to see departments’ funding diminished and their staff better trained. Additionally, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials said they were blindsided by the charges pushed by Howard, and that their own investigation is ongoing.
The days when officers called out en masse also followed the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields, who stepped down the day after Brooks was killed and condemned the actions of the officers involved.
“The police morale has been extraordinarily low since the recent indictments,” Atlanta Police Foundation spokesman Robert Baskin told SaportaReport in a recent interview, adding that officers were already under “extraordinary pressure because of the coronavirus.” He also said police have been under “verbal assault” and have allegedly been attacked during the recent spate of Black Lives Matter protests.
Many officers believe Rolfe “was not given due process before being terminated,” Baskin continued. “Nobody is saying this case should not be investigated; it absolutely should be investigated.”
Trust in local law enforcement, though, must be restored, especially as Atlanta witnesses a recent uptick in violent crime, Baskin said, nodding to a series of shootings that took place over the weekend. “There’s been a sense of lawlessness in town that’s occurred in the last few weeks,” he said.
“Thirty-four people were victims of gun violence over the July 4 holiday weekend alone,” Baskin said. “In June, 19 murders occurred, and 64 shooting incidents resulted in 94 shooting victims, 19 of whom died. It was the bloodiest month in Atlanta in 17 years.”
The hours and days that followed Howard pressing charges against Rolfe also comprised unsubstantiated complaints on social media of officers and dispatchers not responding to 911 calls. Police officials assured people on Twitter that “We have enough resources to maintain operations and remain able to respond to incidents.” Reports of silent police scanners, however, ran rampant then, too.
What comes next in this saga is yet unclear, but the court battles over the fates of Rolfe and his then-partner Officer Devin Brosnan, who was charged with aggravated assault and two violations of his oath of office, promise further spectacle.
Here is a spreadsheet that summarizes the information from the roll call documents:
Here are the roll call documents provided by APD officials:
(Header image, via Sean Keenan: An Atlanta Police car bashed during the early days of the Black Lives Matter protests.)