Local News

Selection of new Durham police chief a 'deliberate process'

Posted March 29, 2016 5:53 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2016 10:40 p.m. EDT

— Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield announced Tuesday the two finalists for the position of Durham police chief, following a three month search.

Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis, who serves over the Strategy and Special Projects division of the City of Atlanta Police Department, and Major Michael J. Smathers, who oversees the Field Services Group of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, are the contenders to replace former Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr.

Lopez retired at the end of 2015, after Bonfield decided a change in leadership was necessary. Bonfield cited a spike in violent crime and unhappiness within the police department as reasons for the change.

A crime report released in early March showed violent crimes had increased by 18 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. Homicides alone increased 68 percent in the same time period.

Former Deputy Chief Larry Smith has been serving as interim police chief since Jan. 1.

“The search has been a very deliberate process to recruit and identify the very best person to be Durham’s next Chief of Police, and I’m confident that we’ve selected two extremely strong and capable candidates,” Bonfield said.

Bonfield said Davis has had a 28-year career with the Atlanta police and, as a lieutenant, was appointed as the commander of the department’s Homeland Security Unit. Davis has also served as the department’s emergency preparedness coordinator, where she partnered with agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and served as the commander of the Special Enforcement Section, which included narcotics, vice and high intensity drug trafficking.

Davis was one of eight women from across the country recognized by “O” magazine in 2015 for her “significant contribution to public service.”

Bonfield said Smathers has served in nearly every section and division with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police since beginning his career there in 1994. Smathers received a Chief’s Community Policing award for leadership and his division’s achievement of reducing crime while serving as captain of the Charlotte Eastway Patrol Division. Under Smathers’ leadership, the homicide clearance rate for the Criminal Investigations Bureau was 81 percent.

“While each candidate was vetted through a thorough background investigation, I can assure the public that throughout the assessment process, they consistently demonstrated a commitment to police professionalism, transparency, accountability and a positive relationship with the communities they serve,” Bonfield said.

At public forums, community members expressed concerns about transparency, diversity and over-policing and said those are key issees they would like the incoming chief to address.

Members of the Durham community will have an opportunity to meet the two finalists during a moderated community forum on April 6, beginning at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Residents can submit questions for the finalists until April 4 by emailing PublicAffairs@DurhamNC.gov, calling 919-560-1200, or by visiting the City of Durham Facebook and Twitter pages.