Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 25, 2022

Historic choice for police chief

Murphy brings strong resume built in 25 years with Atlanta P.D.

In the midst of Black History Month and on the cusp of Women’s History Month, Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly’s choice for the city’s next chief of police is Celeste Murphy, a law enforcement veteran who will be the first woman – and black woman – to lead the local police force.

Speaking during a press conference Tuesday, Kelly said Murphy “brings a demonstrated ability to reduce crime and proven commitment to community policing” to the role.

“Bottom line – Chief Murphy knows her stuff. She has the skills and experience we need in order to keep our community safe.”

“This is a dream come true for me and a proud moment, I don’t take it lightly,” Murphy said during the press conference. “It’s also a moment that will be etched into Chattanooga’s history.”

Murphy has spent the last 25 years rising through the ranks of the Atlanta Police Department, where she served as patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, major and deputy chief.

During this time, she either worked in or supervised every division of the department, including Special Operations, Special Projects, Field Operations, Strategy and Community Services.

As deputy chief of Field Operations, Murphy helped to drive and then maintain a double-digit decrease in overall crime in her precincts.

During the press conference, Murphy said she will continue to focus on violent crime reduction as Chattanooga’s police chief.

“I’m going to make sure we leverage technology and interagency coordination to disrupt the small percentage of people who bear the responsibility for violent acts.”

Murphy also took on multiple high-level assignments for the APD, including overseeing policing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, as well as managing Violent Crime Interdiction.

She also oversaw Code Enforcement, Strategic Response, Narcotics and undercover investigations.

During the period of unrest after the killing of George Floyd, Murphy managed about 900 patrol officers and worked with the community to restore the peace.

She also led department efforts to provide education and life skills to Atlanta’s youth, including working with local nonprofits to provide alternative pathways to criminal justice involvement.

Murphy said she will also focus on this key area as she oversees the CPD.

“We’re going to partner with Hamilton County schools and businesses to provide mentorships, internships and job opportunities. And we’re going to leverage dedicated officers to engage with youth and guardians seven days a week.

“Officers will also monitor areas where juveniles tend to congregate and work with guardians, parents and the court system to make youth initiatives and diversion programs available.”

Hamilton County School Board member Joe Smith was part of a six-person community panel Kelly installed to vet the four finalists for the position of police chief. He said Murphy’s history of engaging youth “[rang his] bell.

“I’m excited about our new chief’s heart for young people and what she’s going to bring to our city with police athletic leagues and our officers rolling up their sleeves and putting sweat equity into our kids’ lives,” he says.

“We absolutely identified the right person to be our next police chief.”

Immediately before her appointment as CPD chief, Murphy served as the deputy chief of the APD’s Community Services Division, which encompasses units responsible for Atlanta’s community-oriented policing.

In that role, Murphy coordinated with the nonprofit Policing Alternatives & Diversion initiative, which gives officers the discretion to divert offenders committing low-level offenses to social services.

Murphy said she will also concentrate on community engagement in Chattanooga.

“You’re going to see me out there and you’re going to see our executive command staff out there. We’re going to get into the neighborhoods to encourage resident engagement and participation and to work with neighborhoods to address nuisance properties and problem locations.”

During the press conference, Murphy said her advancement through the ranks of the APD was intentional.

“I worked in every department and achieved every rank so I could learn new skills and be in high level positions and take high level assignments. I was afforded a lot of opportunities to receive a lot of training that allowed me to prepare for this job.”

As Kelly began the process of searching for a police chief, he identified three “non-negotiables,” he said during the press conference.

“We needed a candidate with a proven track record in keeping people safe, a chief with a steadfast commitment to civil rights and a chief who was comfortable writing a new playbook for public safety.”

Kelly also held several community forums to learn what Chattanoogans wanted in the leader of their police force.

“Our team heard from hundreds of residents from every corner of the city. And the clear consensus was the people wanted a chief with a heart for the community, the ability to build a department that reflects the diversity of Chattanooga and the experience to engage youth in an authentic and meaningful way.

“Above all, they wanted a leader with integrity, experience and compassion.”

Kelly said the four finalists were all outstanding but that Murphy stood out as an exceptional candidate.

Ternae Jordan Sr., pastor of Mt. Canaan Baptist Church and a member of the six-person community panel Kelly installed, says he agrees with Kelly and encouraged the community to give Murphy its support.

“We were looking for someone with a vision, and our new chief has a vision,” Jordan said during the press conference. “Leadership is not about the person who’s in front. If a leader is trying to lead but no one is following, they’re simply taking a walk. So for Celeste to be successful, we have to stand with her.”

At the conclusion of the community panel, all six members individually recommended Murphy, Kelly said.

“It was clear Chief Murphy was made of something special and we would be lucky to have her.”

Murphy said during the press conference that the welcome the city has extended to her could not have been warmer.

“How does someone visit a city for just a few weeks and it already feels like home?” she asked. “A lot of it had to do with the new friends I met while I was here.”

In closing, Murphy said the CPD will use every resource and relationship at its disposal to keep the city safe.

“We will reveal the humanity in each other by embracing what we have in common. We will work together instead of against each other through conversations and partnership. And we will focus not just on stopping crime and but also on cutting off the root causes of those crimes.”

Murphy is a mother of four children and holds degrees from Syracuse University and Saint Leo University. She succeeds Eric Tucker, who served as interim chief following the retirement of David Roddy. Her appointment is subject to the approval of the Chattanooga City Council.

Additional source: Office of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly