Durham News

Q&A with Durham’s new top cop

New Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis speaks Monday in the Durham City Council chamber in Durham, N.C. Davis will be Durham's first African-American woman police chief and will assume the reins of the department on June 6.
New Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis speaks Monday in the Durham City Council chamber in Durham, N.C. Davis will be Durham's first African-American woman police chief and will assume the reins of the department on June 6. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Last week, Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield pinned a city of Durham pin to Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis’ suit after she met with the media for the first time since being named Durham’s next police chief.

Before and after that moment, Davis, 56, who will start June 6, answered questions about how she will address violent crime, body cameras and the Police Department’s strained community relationships.

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.

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.

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

Initial thoughts on addressing violent crime in Durham?

Davis: Looking at the victimology of crime, I think it is going to be really important to see the nature of the crime and dig deep. Not just that it was a crime that happened, that we have a black male that is dead here or a Hispanic male that was dead there. Who is that person? What are they associated with? What type of gun violence? What type of weapons were involved? Were they semi-automatic weapons? There are so many different aspects of violent crime. You have to bring in federal agents so you can try to establish task force to deal with controlling guns; gun buy-back programs are very popular as well.

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.

What is your position on the use of body cameras and access to the video?

Davis: That various from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. I would have to look at what the initial policies have been developed here. However, in the city of Atlanta, we worked really closely with the law department and also with our citizen review board so that we could come up with a policy, one that did not jeopardize the integrity of an investigation but at the same time offers transparency during the investigation. Sometimes we can reveal video footage, and sometimes it may not be wise to do so, especially in very serious types of investigations.

What is your philosophy on enforcing marijuana laws?

Davis: We enforce those marijuana laws in the city of Atlanta. We don’t ask our officers to deviate from what is in the city ordinance. If the city ordinance needs to change then we look at talking to those legislators to make those changes. We don’t put our officers in precarious situations so they can use that level of discretion on whether to charge a person with the possession of marijuana or not. I think that is going to be a legislative issue that we would have to take a look at.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

@1divacop no more

Incoming Police Chief Cerelyn Davis has changed her Twitter handle from @1divacop to @1cjdcop?

Davis said that @1divacop was a handle that she chose for herself because many of her role models were considered divas.

“And a diva to me is a strong confident woman,” she said, pointing to Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Jordan and Nancy Pelosi.

But as she moves to a different environment with a different culture, she understands that the reference may have different meanings

“So the folks in Atlanta can continue to call me a diva cop, which they did. And the folks here can refer to my initials, which I think will be perfectly fine,” she said. “I don’t want to disrespect anyone, and I don’t want to people to misunderstand who I am.”