Cerelyn Davis made an impression on members of the Durham community when she appeared before them as part of the screening process in the search for a new Durham police chief. One who was there, David Harris, said that in a mock community meeting Davis brought people together and seemed welcoming to the input of others when it came to decision-making.
Durham’s new chief currently is deputy chief in Atlanta, a major metropolis with a host of law enforcement challenges. She has advocated community-based policing. And that seems to be a priority with some community leaders who have made their feelings known. For example, the Rev. Tim Conder of Emmaus Way Church said it’s important that police live inside the communities where they work. Toward that end, he and other Durham leaders are asking the city to focus on affordable housing with police officers in mind.
Yes, it appears getting to know the people for whom she’s going to work will need to be a top priority for the new chief. And from a practical standpoint, Davis will have to confront immediately the issue that led City Manager Tom Bonfield to ask for the resignation of Chief Jose Lopez last year: a rising violent crime rate.
Durham, which has been a city on the move in terms of development and the arts, can’t afford to let the crime problem dominate its profile.
This, after all, ought to be a boom town still: Duke University’s massive medical complex and other parts of one of the nation’s most prominent universities are dominant in the Bull City. But that’s only part of the story. N.C. Central is another part. And the American Tobacco Complex is a monumental example of the best in downtown revitalization. Along with that development has come the DPAC, drawing top performers from Broadway and popular music.
Durham has far too much going for it to allow a crime problem to monopolize the attention. But it will take some imagination and, yes, some tough policing as well as smart policing to get the crime issues under control.
For its virtues, Durham continues to wrestle with racial tension and economic instability in many of its communities. Davis will be part of the solutions to those problems as well. She’s going to have to be a high-profile chief, one who goes into neighborhoods and regularly meets with residents, one who can listen to concerns, acknowledge problems but also be tough when it comes to engaging the entire community in finding solutions to crime and drug problems. Some Durham residents appear to have thought the police were the enemy, and Davis can help that change while making her support for her officers clear to them and the public.