David Harris wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s announcement that Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis will be Durham’s next top cop.
Harris was among a group of community members who helped assess the top six Durham police chief candidates about two months ago.
The assessment included mock situations, such as a press conference, community meetings and a feedback session with a challenging employee.
Harris participated in the mock community meeting, he said, and Davis stood out.
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She defused the tension and brought everyone into the conversation, Harris said.
“It (became) a group meeting rather than her meeting,” said Harris, who has held leadership positions on Durham’s InterNeighborhood Council, District 2 Partners Against Crime and People’s Alliance.
Davis listened to the participants, Harris said. She said she would be willing to investigate items she didn’t know the answer to and instilled a sense of inclusion while working through the process, he said.
“She will attempt to incorporate not only her inner circle, but the community to find solutions to problems that we have,” Harris said “Versus coming in and having all the answers.”
‘The best fit’
Durham has been searching for a new chief since City Manager Tom Bonfield asked Chief Jose Lopez to resign last year under mounting criticism and a rising violent crime rate. Lopez served as police chief for eight years.
In late March, city officials announced that Davis was one of two finalists. The second finalist was Maj. Michael J. Smathers, who oversees the Field Services Group of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
On Tuesday morning Bonfield, who oversees the Police Department, announced that Davis would be chief.
“At the end of the day, I felt that her overall command-level experience as a deputy chief in the Atlanta Police Department was something that, in the slightest way, set her apart,” Bonfield said. “I just could see her as being the best fit for the community.”
Davis will start June 6 with an annual salary of $150,000.
She has worked for the Atlanta department for 28 years and held the ranks of patrol officer, detective and sergeant. She has been deputy chief since February 2014.
Mike Evans, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Durham County Lodge No. 2, hasn’t met Davis, but he said he appreciates that she worked her way up the ranks in Atlanta.
“We are really looking to working with her,” Evans said.
2nd female chief
Davis will be the city’s second female police chief. Teresa Chambers led the department for four years before she left in 2002 to head the U.S. Park Police.
Mayor Bill Bell said he hopes Davis can make progress on the community’s challenges, particularly violent crime.
“Being an African-American female, that fits in with some of the issues that we are dealing with,” Bell said, specifically pointing to black-on-black crimes and need to strengthen relationships with Durham’s black community.
Davis will oversee the department’s nearly $55 million budget and 630 employees, including 512 sworn officers. As of October 2015, the department had 73 sworn female officers. Thirty-eight were white, 28 were black and seven were Hispanic.
Of the 442 male officers, 297 were white, 119 were black and 19 were Hispanic.
The department has been under scrutiny in recent years among a rising violent crime rate, strained relationships with the community and officer involved shootings. Outside studies have fueled accusations of racial profiling, a claim that Lopez denied.
Atlanta Assistant Police Chief Shawn Jones described Davis an effective self-starter who knows how to motivate people.
“Everybody she meets is a friend,” Jones said.
In Atlanta, Davis is in charge of the strategies and special projects division, which oversees surveillance cameras throughout the city. She also was key in developing the department’s community-oriented policing division.
“She actually stood that up off the ground,” Jones said.
That Atlanta division, which was started about five years ago, has officers that don’t take 911 calls but instead spend their time reaching out and improving the quality of life in the community.
“They are really about building relationships so the police and the community can work together collaboratively to solve issues in the community,” Jones said.
The division has helped avoid anti-police riots that have plagued other cities and has helped push up the department’s clearance rate, which is typically 20 to 30 points about the national average, Jones said.
Davis has also worked with federal agencies, establishing a violent repeat offender program that tracks felons who commit crimes after leaving prison, Jones said.
“I think you got a person who knows how to make things happen,” Jones said.
About Cerelyn Davis
Cerelyn Davis has served as deputy chief of the Atlanta Police Department since February 2014, and currently directs the Strategies & Special Projects Division, where she oversees new technology, the Atlanta Police Leadership Institute, the Tactical Crime Analysis Unit, Planning and Research, Public Affairs, Inspections, the Retired Officers Program, and all major capital projects.
Davis has been a patrol officer, detective, and sergeant. As a lieutenant, Davis served as the personnel commander, public affairs manager, and executive assistant to the police chief. She was also appointed commander of the department’s Homeland Security Unit. Additional responsibilities included overseeing the Intelligence and Organized Crime Unit, Gun and Gang Unit, Cyber Crimes Unit, Tactical Equipment Unit, and all satellite investigators assigned to the DEA, FBI, ATF, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Davis has also served as the commander of the Special Enforcement Section, which included Homeland Security, Narcotics, Vice, Licenses and Permits, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Project Safe Neighborhood, Weed and Seed, Human Trafficking, and the now disbanded Red Dog Unit. As a major, Davis served as the commander of the Office of Professional Standards, assistant commander at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Precinct, project manager for the department’s Community-Oriented Policing Section, and project manager in the Office of the Mayor.
Davis has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo University; a master’s degree in general administration from Central Michigan University; is currently a Northcentral University doctoral candidate in Business Administration (pending dissertation completion); and completed the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, 225th Session.