Kevin Davis pledges to reform Baltimore police under next administration: 'It's an opportunity to get better'

Commissioner Davis, who is expected to remain in the position under the next administration, pledges reform.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh — Baltimore's Democratic nominee for mayor — said Wednesday she wants Commissioner Kevin Davis to lead city police through the years-long process of reforming the embattled agency.

Pugh said Davis has demonstrated a willingness and ability to improve the department, and she would keep him in place as long as he involves the public, especially African-Americans, in the department's overhaul.

"This is not about personalities," Pugh said. "This is about a community that the Justice Department has documented has been wrongly treated for decades. We have a responsibility to correct the wrong, and the Justice Department will be sitting on top of us to make sure we make the changes."

Pugh's comments come as the Department of Justice released the findings of its 14-month civil rights investigation of the Police Department. The investigation will lead to a court-enforceable consent decree that will take years to satisfy.

In heavily Democratic Baltimore, Pugh is favored to win a four-year term as mayor in November. She will face Republican nominee Alan Walden and Green Party challenger Joshua Harris, both of whom declined to commit to keeping Davis.

Davis, who has led Baltimore police for a year, said his experience on the Prince George's County police force would guide his reform efforts. The Washington suburb's Police Department was required to make changes under a 2004 consent decree that took more than four years to satisfy.

"I know it's an opportunity to get better; it's a compelled performance enhancement," Davis, 47, said in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with The Baltimore Sun.

"It's not a suggestion. It's a not a recommendation. It's not a campaign platform. It's not my philosophy or the mayor's philosophy. It's compelled and mandated. That's what changes things."

Davis rose to second in command in Prince George's County after 21 years on the force. He pointed to reforms governing officers' use of force in the county, and said the challenges in Baltimore are similar.

Under the consent decree, Prince George's adopted a "robust" process to critically review all incidents that involve use of force, he said. Before the federal oversight, every use of force, including police-involved shootings, was deemed justified by the department, Davis said.

He said he now understands better how officers should be disciplined when they use force inappropriately, through a range of options including termination, counseling or additional training.

"I look back on that as the singular thing that has prepared me to lead the agency through the next few years," he said of Baltimore's department. "The ability to look at a problem and have more than one solution to it, is something I learned through that experience."

If Walden wins November's election, he said, he would consider retaining the commissioner and commended Davis for his performance, calling him a "good police officer" who understands "what's at stake" and "what needs to be done to set things straight."

Harris said he would need to sit down with Davis to talk about the very specific changes he would make to how police operate. The "revealing, but not shocking" results of the Justice Department investigation show the depths of the problems, he said.

Davis has the firm support of the state's top elected official.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who said Wednesday that he had not read the report, believes Davis is well on the way to making necessary changes in Baltimore.

"We're very happy with him and have a great working relationship," he said.

Hogan said he would look at whether the state could assist the city in the future. The reforms are expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

Outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Davis' track record gives her confidence.

"He's been through a consent decree before in Prince George's County, and his attitude about the opportunities that it presents us is the exact right tone to take and the right expectation to have of the department," said Rawlings-Blake, who leaves office in December after nearly seven years as mayor.

"The investigation reflects where we have been but certainly doesn't condemn us to repeat those mistakes," she said. "It gives us a path forward."

Douglas Ward, director of the Johns Hopkins University division of public safety leadership, said continuity in the Police Department would benefit the city, which has had six police commissioners since 2000.

Over the past 32 years, 11 commissioners have overseen the department — meaning command has changed every three years, on average.

Ward said the frequent shuffle has contributed to problems documented by the Justice Department's report. Rather than committing to wholesale changes in the agency, Ward said, rank-and-file officers believe that it's possible for them to "wait them out."

"What I worry about is the political landscape, and having Commissioner Davis stay there to make sure these changes stick," Ward said. "I would hope the new administration would let him have time to make sure these changes are implemented."

On Wednesday, Davis outlined some changes he made before the release of the report, including firing eight police officers for misconduct and implementing a new use-of-force policy. He also said the department gave officers body cameras, added recording devices in transport vans, and — for the first time ever — is using trained mediators to resolve some disputes between police and the public.

"It was the right thing to do and it was needed to be done," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Kevin Rector and Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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