Violent crime, community relations top agenda for new Durham police chief
Posted May 2, 2016
Durham, N.C. — Although Cerelyn Davis won't start her job as Durham's new police chief for another five weeks, she has already put together a to-do list. Topping her agenda, she said Monday, are reducing violent crime in the city and repairing the fractured relationship between Durham police and the community.
Davis met briefly with reporters Monday, answering questions on topics from body cameras to marijuana laws. City officials last week named the Atlanta police veteran to succeed Chief Jose Lopez, who was forced to retire at the end of 2015.
She is taking over the Durham Police Department at a time when violent crime is up – there have been 16 homicides so far this year, compared with 11 at this time last year.
"She's not a miracle worker," City Manager Tom Bonfield said. "This is going to take some time, but I'm confident she's up to the task."
Davis had a 28-year career with the Atlanta Police Department, including stints heading its Homeland Security Unit and its Special Enforcement Section, which includes narcotics, vice and high-intensity drug trafficking.
"Prevention is more important to me than response," she said about tackling crime. "We can prevent crime in the city of Durham by utilizing various types of preventative measures, not just making sure that citizens are aware to prevent from being crime victims. We also need to make sure our young people understand how important it is to not be involved in violent criminal activity."
Getting that message through to youths requires gaining their trust, and Davis said she recognizes that will involve plenty of work.
Durham police have been the focus of community protests in recent years following officer-involved shootings, and a recent report found that black men were far more likely to face a traffic stop in Durham than any other group.
"Across the county, police agencies struggle with repairing fractured community relationships and lack of trust. Durham is no different," Davis said.
Getting into communities and providing individual approaches for the problems they face is key, she said.
"I have taken time to drive the streets of Durham without an escort in some of those areas I've heard about only so I could see for myself as a citizen what the citizens are experiencing," she said.
Community policing also must be a two-way street," Davis said.
"It's not always about getting information from the community all the time. It's about having them involved in positive interactions with the police department when there's not a crime scene, when it's a normal day," she said.
The Durham City Council held off on adopting a policy governing the use of police-worn body cameras until a new chief was in place, so Davis will also have to work that into her priority list.
Like Bonfield, Mayor Bill Bell said he is confident Davis will be able to accomplish her goals.
"No one expects that she suddenly becomes the chief to suddenly solve all the problems of crime," Bell said. "What we're hoping to be able to do is reverse the trends we've seen in the past."