Interim Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks at a press conference alongside Mayor Rawlings-Blake, after she announced the firing of Commissioner Anthony Batts. (Kevin Richardson)
The veteran law enforcement officer now in charge of the Baltimore Police Department is a relative newcomer to the city who has spent most of his career in the suburbs — but his supporters say he's up to the task of leading the troubled department.
Kevin Davis — whom Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake named interim police commissioner after firing Anthony Batts — arrived in Baltimore in January as a deputy commissioner, following a year and a half as chief of the Anne Arundel County Police Department.
He won praise in Arundel for boosting the image of an agency tarnished by scandal. Before that, he had a long career in Prince George's County, where he helped police emerge from federal oversight related to officers' use of force and rose to second in command.
"Everything he touches turns to gold," said Jamie Benoit, who served on the Anne Arundel County Council when Davis was the chief there. "I think Baltimore is going to be a tough, tough job for him, but he's totally up to the test."
Davis grew up in Prince George's County, where his father was a police officer. He entered the police academy after earning a degree in English at Towson State University.
In Prince George's County, he worked his way up from beat cop to district commander to assistant chief. Along the way, current Chief Mark Magaw said, he built a reputation for transparency.
"He's a strong leader, very thoughtful. He's very direct," Magaw said.
Davis said Wednesday that he plans to focus on fighting crime while repairing broken relationships with the community.
"The relationship with our community needs to be one of service," he said during a news conference at City Hall. "It's not an enforcement relationship. It's a service relationship."
The relationship has been strained since the death in April of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old West Baltimore man suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody, sparking days of demonstrations and protests against police brutality. On the day of his funeral, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting.
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against six officers in Gray's arrest and death, and calm returned to the city. But violent crime has spiked since the unrest.
"I promise the mayor, I promise the city that I will give it my best," Davis said. "Baltimore deserves nothing less."
Davis dealt with some of the challenges confronting Baltimore when he was in Prince George's. The department emerged from Justice Department oversight on training, police use of force and other concerns. As part of the department's command staff, Magaw said, Davis was involved in some reforms.
Magaw said Davis has an excellent grasp of the need to forge relationships between officers and the communities in which they work. He called Davis' ability to build relationships and his transparency valuable traits in a police leader.
"What you see is what you get. He can be trusted," Magaw said.
Former Prince George's County Police Chief David Mitchell hired Davis as a rookie cop in the 1990s. He called the mayor's decision to appoint Davis as interim commissioner "the best move that can be made right now."
Mitchell called Davis a calm, decisive leader who is able to work in diverse communities. When Davis was a district commander in Prince George's, Mitchell said, he was equally comfortable talking with Korean business owners, Latino immigrants, longtime African-American residents and university students.
"One thing he brings is the ability to bridge the gap between the police and the community," Mitchell said. "Here is a community that wants to be proud of the Police Department. It's up to the Police Department to give the community something to be proud of, and Kevin gets that."
Laura Neuman valued those same qualities when she hired Davis to lead the troubled Anne Arundel County Police Department in 2013.
Neuman, a Republican, had just been appointed county executive after a misconduct scandal brought down her predecessor, John R. Leopold.
Leopold had used his police protection detail to perform political and personal tasks. His police chief was not charged, but resigned amid the investigation. The next chief resigned after admitting to using an anti-gay slur.
Neuman was looking for a new chief who could right the ship.
"He understood what it took to manage during a crisis time," Neuman said. "His leadership is subtle. He's soft-spoken and he delivers."
Davis established community and business advisory councils, quadrupled enrollment in the citizen police academy, visited frequently with crime victims and put the department on social media.
When he was hired in Anne Arundel, Davis said, he thought it was important to work regularly with citizens in order to "put some goodwill in the bank" for when crises arise.
Davis angered his officers in 2014 when he criticized their union's donation to support Darren Wilson, the police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who shot teenager Michael Brown to death — an incident that sparked many of the same complaints and frustration as the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Still, Neuman said, Davis handled himself well during controversies, including when an officer shot and killed a dog while canvassing a neighborhood during a robbery investigation. Davis didn't shy away from criticism, Neuman said, and sought ways to improve his department's policing.
"He's as transparent as you'll find," she said.
Benoit, a Democrat, was sharply critical of the police during Leopold's years. He said Davis succeeded in turning things around.
"He's an absolute, consummate pro. He's an all-star," Benoit said.
In Prince George's County, Davis was named as a defendant in two lawsuits.
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 and interrogated for hours about the whereabouts of his girlfriend, the niece of the agency's deputy chief.
A jury found the constitutional rights of the 19-year-old were violated, but rejected his claims of excessive force, according to published reports at the time.
Davis said in a 2013 interview that officers were given the assignment under "false pretenses," as the girl willingly left her home and a missing-person report did not classify her as critically missing. He said 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. 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," he said. "It made me a better leader. It made me a better person."
Davis' tenure in Anne Arundel was short-lived. After Steve Schuh unseated Neuman, he replaced Davis.
Davis quickly landed in Baltimore as deputy commissioner overseeing the Investigations and Intelligence Bureau, which includes homicide detectives, district detectives, the crime lab and intelligence-gathering squads.
At the time he was hired, Davis said in a statement: "The Baltimore Police Department has a long, proud history serving the citizens of Baltimore and I am excited about being a part of that legacy."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.