Durham News

Durham’s new police chief to focus on community policing, repairing relationships

Durham’s new police chief meets the media

VIDEO: Cerelyn “CJ” Davis speaks about her goals as the new top cop in the Bull City
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VIDEO: Cerelyn “CJ” Davis speaks about her goals as the new top cop in the Bull City

Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis met with members of the media Monday for the first time since being named Durham’s next police chief last week.

Davis, 56, who will start June 6, discussed steps she will take to repair strained relationships with some community members and how she will address Durham’s violent crime.

Q: What do you plan to do in your first 60 days?

Davis: I created a form that is going to help me to evaluate my staff to see what type of talent I have in the department. I am going to take a look at the (International Association of the Chiefs of Police) study because there is much work that has already been done as it relates to evaluating the department. I want to take that, see what their recommendations are for the Durham Police Department and start making my own assessment as far as crime-fighting strategies are concerned, what technology is available for the officers and various types of forums that I can sit in on, especially community forums.

I would love to establish an auxiliary for the clergy. Churches are very powerful in helping to galvanize the community and helping to bridge relationships with the police department.

I also want to establish better communication with the Hispanic community, so that they understand that the Durham Police Department is there for them regardless of language barriers.

Q: How do you plan to ensure community policing is an actual and effective practice versus just a feel-good phrase?

Davis: You have to make sure that officers know what community policing is. Community policing is not going to community meetings. Community policing is a mode of operation every day. It is talking to people. It is getting out of your car and knowing the people on your beat, making them feel comfortable that you are the police, and you are there for them and that they can call you by your first name. It is about relationship building. From what I have gathered in my meetings with Durham police officers, they want a better relationship with the community. They want to go into a meeting without it being a hostile environment.

It is really about working together and not just establishing various types of strategies and plans that we think will work. We have to get input from the community.

Q: How do you plan to repair strained relationships with some members in the black community and those who live in areas associated with poverty?

Davis: Even though we can implement training on cultural diversity and conflict resolution, I personally believe that there needs to be a mixed bag of training where the community members are in the same room as police officers so there is an understanding on why the community feels this way about you pulling over an elderly woman late at night.

A lot of it is just changing that mindset of everyday enforcing the law and thinking in terms of that could be my mother, that could be my wife, that could be my child and personalizing it.

It’s going to require oversight. It’s going to require us using data, (traffic) stop data, to evaluate what kinds of stops we’re doing, and I believe the RTI study reveals some of that. Once the study has been done, we have to put checks and balances in place to ensure that we don’t have particular officers pulling over African-Americans without any citations. Community members need to know that there is somebody in place that is not going to tolerate civil violations, human rights violations from police officers

Q: Initial thoughts on addressing violent crime in Durham?

Davis: There are so many different aspects of addressing criminal activity that go beyond just going to the crime scene. It’s how do you prevent it in the first place? What do you have in place to give them alternatives and help shape their lives to go in a different direction? So preventive measures are critical, and (officers) have a huge influence over young people. Young people before they get tainted, they love the police. Those are some of the things I think of in terms of addressing violent crime, not just putting a Band-Aid on it, but actually getting into the community and working on different types of programs.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges