"I don't breathe fire. I love my mom," said Kevin Davis, breaking the ice as he introduced himself to a group of Anne Arundel officers in Pasadena.
It was the Eastern District's 3 p.m. roll call Thursday, one of many rounds he's been making in his new role since he left his job as assistant police chief in Prince George's County to take over the troubled Anne Arundel department barely a week ago.
His priorities include getting out to listen to what Anne Arundel County police officers and district commanders have to say, getting the lay of the land from his staff and evaluating everything from the people to the facilities where they work. There will also be meetings with county neighborhood groups and organizations.
It's all in an effort to rebuild trust, he said.
"There's a cloud over the government and a cloud over you, all that you did not cause. And that overshadows your good work," he told the officers.
Minutes earlier, speaking with the district's commander, Frank Tewey, Davis acknowledged that he'd gotten lost the previous day in the department's headquarters in Millersvllle. The good part was that he landed amid evidence technicians, where he learned that they love their schedule, which keeps them on shifts with the officers and dispatchers they regularly deal with. "I'm learning too," he said.
Davis' priorities include improving the atmosphere in a department in which frustrated workers have taken to venting allegations in anonymous letters to politicians and news media. He said he wants to stress community policing strategies, improve community relations and make sure public safety issues are professionally addressed.
The department is also struggling with aging facilities, including a police academy in need of replacement, and old police cars that require constant repair.
Davis said officers and resources — the department is authorized for 679 officers and 240 civilian employees, though some positions are vacant — must be used to make a difference. The focus should not be on the number of traffic tickets, he said, but rather are tickets being written in areas where there are a lot of crashes?
"Quality trumps quantity every day of the week," he said. "I'm not a crime accountant."
County Executive Laura Neuman called Davis the "perfect candidate," someone who can tackle the job of restoring "faith and integrity to the department."
Davis said how people feel about safety and their police department is crucial: Working with residents routinely helps police "put some goodwill in the bank" when crises arise. A key way of building relationships will be getting officers out to meet residents more often, and he said police should include other county agencies in dealing with neighborhood issues.
Davis' interest in working with residents was spurred when he was a district commander in Prince George's from 2005 to 2009. One success in building community relations, he said, was devising a "graffiti wagon" and going out on weekends with residents to clean up graffiti in his district.
He said he sees Anne Arundel's four district commanders as chiefs of their districts, deciding what works best for their neighborhoods in a diverse county of about 540,000 residents.
Anne Arundel's department has had a tumultuous few years. An investigation of County Executive John R. Leopold culminated in his conviction five months ago for offenses that included misusing his executive protection officers for personal and political tasks.
Davis is the fourth police chief within 12 months for a force that became embroiled in the scandal that led to Leopold's conviction and resignation. James Teare Sr. retired last summer before Leopold's trial, ending a state investigation into his role in the misconduct case involving his boss. Teare was not charged with any offense. His replacement, Larry W. Tolliver, a former state police superintendent, left after 10 months, admitting that he used an anti-gay slur and saying that constant questioning of his leadership was taking a toll. Deputy Police Chief Pamela Davis — no relation — has been serving as acting chief since late May, while Neuman appointed an outside task force to evaluate the department.
The tumult aside, the new chief said he jumped at the opportunity to lead his hometown police force after 21 years in Prince George's County, where he had worked his way up from beat cop to assistant chief.
Davis has lived in Crofton since 1995 and said he knows many Anne Arundel officers from working in an adjacent county. He coaches youth football in Crofton. His children swim with County Councilman Jamie Benoit's kids, and he went to DeMatha High School in the 1980s with O'Brien Atkinson, president of the union that represents rank-and-file police officers.
Davis "dealt with scandals of his own in Prince George's County," Benoit said, adding that he is "very, very comfortable with both his experience and his character" and thinks he can right the Anne Arundel department.