Sometimes C.J. Davis slips on a baseball cap and shades, hoping to observe the Bull City as an ordinary citizen.
“But my officers always know who I am,” said Davis, 56. “I am like, ‘you weren’t supposed to know who I was.’”
Davis needs the disguise as many seek her out since she became Durham’s top cop on June 6 under expectations that she transform an agency facing mounting criticism and a rising violent crime rate. Davis had worked for the Atlanta Police Department for 28 years, most recently as deputy chief since February 2014.
She wore her disguise to a Durham Central Park food truck rodeo (she loved the lobster roll from Cousin’s Maine Lobster) and a downtown festival.
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“They didn’t recognize me,” she said. “I stopped and talked to the DJ and everything, bought some different little arts and crafts.”
Davis has found a city in transition, she said. One that reminds her of the rapid development in Atlanta after the 1996 Summer Olympics. Buildings went up, the airport expanded, but it took the Atlanta Police Department a moment to recognize the transformation to a major city.
“It happened before our eyes,” Davis said. “And we continued to operate like old Atlanta. And the city just blew up, before we even realized it.”
And that, she said, is what she sees happening in Durham.
From 2010 to 2015, Durham’s population increased grew 12.8 percent to 257,636, while the number of police officers rose by less than half that.
“That is huge when it comes to service delivery,” Davis said. “You are responding to calls in areas that used to be green. Now you have apartments and businesses, and you need visibility.”
For years, former Police Chief Jose Lopez, who was forced to retired in December, asked for more officers, but city leaders said they were reluctant to respond to the request without an effective plan.
The Police Department paid a consultant about $90,000 to study the agency’s staffing and resources for a report released last week. Meanwhile, the city has identified funding for 35 additional officers.
The study recommended putting more officers on patrol, emphasizing community policing and eliminating the downtown District 5 patrol area due to its low workload compared to the other four police districts.
Davis views the report as “recommendations,” and said the downtown substation isn’t going anywhere.
“We plan to mobilize our downtown officers so they cannot just handle the downtown area, but handle calls for service on the perimeter, help pick up some of those other beats in other districts,” she said.
Davis plans to bring her own staffing and resource deployment plan to the council in about a month, but she is already moving forward with changes in the department.
Davis created and filled an LGBTQ liaison position with gay Officer Charles Strickland, and is working to fill a Hispanic liaison officer position. A gang unit and a robbery and aggravated assault unit are also in the works, along with various levels of training in areas such as implicit bias and de-escalation of force.
My response was very sincere, but very deliberate. That as your chief, I can represent this department, but you have to connect with the community.
Police Chief C.J. Davis
Davis said she wants to rebrand the department.
“Let people know the great things we are doing,” she said. “If there have been bumps in the road in the past, let’s look at that and work to put policies and procedures in place so we don’t have those bumps in the future. “
Ever since Davis has arrived, she said, she’s received email after email about officers doing good things in the community – officers jumping out of a car on the freeway to help save a puppy, bringing bottles of water to the American Tobacco Trail on a hot day and paying for a homeless family’s hotel.
The rebranding process, she said, includes a strong message that she won’t tolerate or defend inappropriate practices.
“We don’t protect what’s wrong,” she said. “We make sure that what’s wrong is exposed. We deal with it quickly and we get it out of here.”
During the initial interview process, officers asked Davis how she could help connect them with the community.
“My response was very sincere, but very deliberate,” she said. “That as your chief, I can represent this department, but you have to connect with the community.”
Davis said she assured them that the department has a lot of good qualities and positive programs.
“I’ve told the officers I wouldn’t be here if I thought I was coming to work with a bunch of losers,” she said.