"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.
Atkinson said Davis was the only candidate during the previous search for a chief to contact him about his ideas for the department. "I think that speaks volumes for what kind of chief he would be," Atkinson said.
"He said he thought a chief should be more involved with the County Council and other elected officials," Atkinson recalled. "He described a more collaborative style and said he'd like to involve the rank and file in decision-making."
Davis said Prince George's and Anne Arundel have similar policing challenges: They are large, suburban counties adjacent to big cities.
Yet along with success, Davis' record in Prince George's also includes two lawsuits in which he was a defendant. He was cleared of wrongdoing by his department in both incidents.
In 1993, a young man alleged that Davis threw him to the ground and handcuffed him without explanation. He won a $12,500 jury award against Davis, according to court records.
In 2002, a federal jury awarded about $90,000 to a teenager who said he was taken from his home without a warrant in 1999 by undercover officers, then interrogated for hours about the whereabouts of his girlfriend, the niece of the agency's deputy chief. According to published reports at the time, a jury found the constitutional rights of the 19-year-old were violated but rejected his claims of excessive force. Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the deputy chief, who gave the officers their assignment, retired.
Davis said that assignment was given under "false pretenses," as the girl willingly left her home and a missing-person report did not classify her as critically missing, though officers were led to believe she was in danger.
"The fact that a deputy chief gave it to me, I had no reason to doubt its veracity," he said this week recalling the case. But it was "quite a lesson for me as a young sergeant."
Davis said the incident stuck with him. "It made me a better cop. It made me a better leader. It made me a better person."
"You will never see Kevin Davis make that mistake," said David Mitchell, a former Prince George's police chief and Maryland State Police superintendent.
Mitchell said he's known Davis since he was child, because Davis' father, Robert, was a Prince George's officer.
Most recently, Mitchell was Davis' professor in a class at the Johns Hopkins University when Davis was working toward a master's degree in public safety leadership. He said Davis has learned from everything, including his and others' mistakes.
"He will not betray his department," Mitchell said.
Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw said he was disappointed to lose his right-hand man to Anne Arundel.
Magaw praised Davis' experience, particularly his efforts in community outreach. He noted that Prince George's has seen several years of reduced violent crime and said "a lot of that is because of Kevin Davis."
Davis dealt with training, use of force issues and other concerns as the Prince George's department emerged from Justice Department oversight several years ago, which stemmed from police shootings and other incidents. According to Prince George's police spokesman Lt. Bill Alexander, Davis was among those credited with addressing community and federal concerns.
Cpl. Vince Canales, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Prince George's County, said Davis is a "policeman's policeman" who is a smart pick for Anne Arundel.
"He's come up through the ranks; he's worked the streets of Prince George's County," he said. "He's a hands-on type of manager."
Position: Chief, Anne Arundel Police Department.
Experience: 21 years with Prince George's County police, rising to rank of assistant chief
Education: DeMatha High School in Hyattsville; bachelor's degree in English, Towson State University; master's degree in management, the Johns Hopkins University; graduate, FBI National Academy
Residence: Crofton, since 1995
Personal: Married with four children; football coach for Crofton Athletic CouncilCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun