A. Reginald Eaves, “Mr. Commish” to his inner circle, was the very first Public Safety Commissioner in the country. Prior to the 1975 election of Maynard Holbrook Jackson as the mayor of Atlanta there was no such thing as a Public Safety Commissioner.
Before Atlanta changed from the old rural Marshal/Deputy Marshal system in 1873, the chief law enforcement officer in the city had been the Chief of Police. After his election, Jackson needed to wrestle control of the Police Department away from John F. Inman, the Chief of Police since March 2o, 1972.
At that time, Inman was in charge of a police department that was accused of brutalizing members of the African American community. Similar to policing in Ferguson, Staten Island, Baltimore, and McKinney today, members of the black community were used as target practice by the Atlanta Police Department. But unlike today, there were no smartphones to capture the police abuse.
Nevertheless, Atlanta’s black community was up in arms over violent police acts. Jackson was able to rally black voters in part because they saw in him a way to stop the police brutality. Inman did not want to give up his job so Jackson could hire his law school buddy, A. Reginald Eaves.
Jackson did the next best thing. He changed the century-old police chief system and created a position called the Public Safety Commissioner. He then placed the police department under the control of the Public Safety Commissioner. Eaves was tabbed for this position.
When Eaves showed up for his first day on the job, he was met by a recalcitrant John Inman and several of Inman’s gun-toting officers . After several tense days of a Mexican standoff, Inman went his way and Eaves got busy reforming the way Atlanta police officers related to members of the African American community. His legacy in this regard is still in tact as Atlanta has not had a major charge of police brutality raised against it during this climate of “Black Lives Matter.
His next course of action was to level the playing field when it came to promotions. In the past, white officers held a huge advantage when it came to advancing up the ranks. Suddenly, black officers were passing the promotional exam in larger numbers than white officers. The white officers pushed back and alleged that cheating was occurring on the promotional exam. The cheating scandal threatened to waylay the Jackson administration before it could get underway. To remedy this situation, Jackson jettisoned his two top aides over the cheating allegations, Emma Darnell and A. Reginald Eaves.
Darnell left in a huff and opposed Jackson for reelection in 1979. Eaves ran for a seat on the Fulton County Commission and won. The city of Atlanta went back to the police chief position after Eaves left the city. There has never been another Public Safety Commissioner in Atlanta city government.
He served on the Fulton County Commission until 1988 when the federal government in an effort to blunt the growing political power of black elected officials instituted what has been dubbed “Operation Blue Eyes/Green Eyes/Brown Eyes.”
Eaves would later tell a class of newly elected officials from throughout the south about this federal sting operation in an effort to school them to the perils that awaited well intended black elected officials.
According to one graduate of Eaves freshman orientation course for newly elected black officials, this operation was lead by the FBI and was designed to entrap Eaves, Maynard Jackson and Elgin Bell, the top black officials in Atlanta at that time. Jackson and Bell escaped the dragnet, Eaves, the law enforcement official, let his guard down and fell into the government trap. He learned a valuable lesson.
Eaves spent the next 27 years of his life mentoring young black elected officials in the methods used by the government in entangling them in schemes they otherwise would not have devised on their own. Also, he showed them how offers of money in exchange for a political favor are made to appear legitimate, until the government is ready to take you down.
“Mr. Commish,” although largely unrecognized and undaunted by public scandal, stopped police brutality, promoted black policer officers and mentored the next generation of black elected officials on how to avoid government plots to eliminate blacks from electoral politics.
A mighty, mighty “drum major” for the people.
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org