Law enforcement personnel everywhere are “to protect and serve.” Helping people and solving problems is what our law enforcement personnel and city commissioners do.

It is fitting that this final column in observance of Black History Month shines a light on Rome Police Department Chief Denise Downer-McKinney and Rome City Commissioner Sundai Stevenson.

Named Chief of the Rome Police Department in March 2016, Chief Downer-McKinney is the first African-American police chief of the Rome Police Department. She began her career in law enforcement Jan. 7, 1985.


Because police officers face something new each and every day, there is no such thing as a “routine” call. When asked what she likes best about working in law enforcement, Downer-McKinney states, “Working in law enforcement, I am following the teachings of my parents, John and Ollie Downer… being a servant and helping others.”

Among Downer-McKinney’s favorite memories are those of working in training, crime prevention and the Community Relations Division. She states, “I thoroughly enjoyed teaching kids in the local schools to hopefully redirect them from drugs and violence.”


The late Archie Lawrence was the first African-American to be offered a job in the Rome Police Department. At his mother’s request, however, he declined the offer. The late Milton McConnell was the first African-American in the Rome Police Department. The late Frank Jones was the second. On Dec. 18, 1956, Mr. Lawrence joined McConnell and Jones on the Rome Police Department. Lawrence retired as a lieutenant on Dec. 30, 1988.


African-Americans faced many injustices during the 1960s, and African-American police officers suffered those same injustices. Yet Lawrence, McConnell and Jones stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their fellow officers and held the line, keeping Rome under control in the civil unrest of the ’60s. Together, they upheld their oath to protect the lives and property of those they served.


Recently I had the opportunity to briefly interview Sundai Stevenson. In 2016, she was elected the first African-American woman on the Rome City Commission. A native of Calhoun, Stevenson attended Calhoun High School, then Dalton Junior College and Florida A & M University.

Stevenson has seen the Rome Community come together to help other communities during times of crises. Traumatic weather events certainly create crises. Rome has helped hurricane and tornado victims. Stevenson is particularly inspired when she observes the selfless manner in which our community helps victims in times of crises.

When asked what she likes best about being a commissioner, Stevenson states, “Helping people and solving problems are fundamental to my personal view of my duties as a Rome City Commissioner. It is always satisfying when I can serve the public by helping solve a problem.”

The interview of Stevenson culminated with a discussion about what inspires her. I learned that although her father has been deceased for 26 years, he continues to inspire her.

Stevenson’s father was involved in an automobile accident which paralyzed him from the waist down. His care-taking responsibilities subsequently fell upon Stevenson, her siblings and their mother. Despite her father’s condition, the family watched him serve the community on a daily basis. She states, “I learned from an early age the importance of using whatever you are blessed with to serve others.”

The Rome community is indeed fortunate to have Downer-McKinney and Stevenson serving in these capacities as community leaders. These women were both the first African-American women to serve in their respective fields. Law enforcement. Community Service.

Downer-McKinney and Stevenson were blessed with strong parents who led by example, parents who taught them well what it means to serve. Thank you Chief Downer-McKinney and Commissioner Stevenson for your continued service to the Rome community.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal, a history enthusiast, and an avid reader of Southern fiction. Readers may email her at