By John Schaffner
Maj. Robert Browning, the new commander of Atlanta police Zone 2, speaks with pride about his membership in the Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, though he says many of his colleagues who ride Harleys joke about his quiet, unassuming Honda cycle.
But the 49-year-old Browning doesn’t need the roar of a Harley-Davidson to garner attention.
For those who recall the two-day episode in Buckhead involving a crane sitter who disrupted traffic along Peachtree Road, Browning was the negotiator on the crane with the criminal, and he continues to serve as the commander of the police hostage negotiation team.
On a brighter side, he also is the police representative who yearly sits on top of the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts store to raise funds for the Special Olympics. Browning serves on the executive council for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics for the state of Georgia, which raises money to send athletes to attend the Summer and Winter Special Olympics Games.
And Browning has appeared on the TV show “Cops.”
Despite not riding a Harley, Browning serves on the board for the Blue Knights Georgia Chapter 7, which is the sponsor of the Georgia Police Memorial Ride to raise money to send families of fallen officers to the Police Memorial Week each year in Washington. He will be in the thick of his Blue Knights colleagues April 25 for the Georgia ride, which the organization has done for about 18 years.
About replacing Maj. James Sellers, who retired this month, Browning said: “Jim was one of my really good friends. He left me a very nice place to run here. Jim left a great legacy.”
He looks forward to working closely with the Buckhead business community and the Neighborhood Planning Units.
This is not the first time Browning has been assigned to Buckhead. He was Zone 2 evening watch sergeant from October 1999 to June 2002, when he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as evening watch commander and a bomb technician. He said he is happy to be back in Zone 2, the police zone in the city with the best crime statistics, and he plans to keep it that way.
Browning started his career with the Atlanta police in 1983 as a patrol officer in Zone 5 — now Zone 1 — on the west side of downtown. In 1988 he was promoted to detective and assigned to the narcotics unit of the Special Investigations Section. From 1993 to 2002, he served as a sergeant in the “Red Dog” drug unit, the narcotics unit and the SWAT team, where he was a negotiator, SWAT supervisor and bomb technician.
In 2003, Browning was transferred back to the narcotics unit as its commander. In 2005, he was moved to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) unit, where he was deputy director of operations. HIDTA is a multijurisdictional task force that consists of local, state and federal drug agents.
He said of Atlanta: “We are the Miami of the 1980s” for drug trafficking. “We are not really a drug capital, but we are what might be called a drug distribution point.”
Browning was promoted to major in September and assigned as night commander, serving as the ranking officer during the evening and morning watch hours for the entire city.
“I think we have one of the best police departments in the country,” Browning told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods on Feb, 12. “Because of my assignment with HIDTA, I interacted with everybody across the country and even across the border in Canada and Mexico. I think we have one of the best.”
Asked if he plans to change the strategies of Zone 2, Browning said Sellers did a fine job, which is obvious from Zone 2’s winning the award the past two years for the greatest reduction in crime of any Atlanta zone and again posting great statistics in the past year.
“Right now the only thing we have an upswing in, and it is happening all over the city, is car break-ins,” Browning said.
He said Buckhead had about 40 car break-ins in a recent week. He said Zone 5 had close to 75 the same week. “I am going to be looking at how to make that problem go away.”
He said the police force may take a “clean car” program citywide, encouraging people to remove everything when they leave their cars.
Browning was born in Alaska, where his father was in the military. Both parents grew up in Rome, and they moved to Marietta when he was 7 and his father retired from the military. He now lives near Lake Allatoona. His brother was one of the first MARTA police officers.
The major is a graduate of the University of Georgia — he played drums in the marching band — and he worked security at the Rich’s department store at Perimeter Mall after graduating from college.