Davis, a former deputy to Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, was endorsed by a 12-2 vote of council members, several of whom said they polled community association presidents in their neighborhoods before deciding to support Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's pick.
"We need stability in the Police Department," said City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the public safety committee. "We cannot have a temporary captain of the ship with all the violence in the city and the trials [in the Freddie Gray case] coming up. ... I have confidence that the comissioner will do a better job of working with everyone to get the crime rate down."
City Councilman Eric T. Costello said he backs Davis "100 percent."
"He's the right guy for the job," Costello said. "He has humility. He knows how to listen. And he actually follows through after he listens."
City Councilman Carl Stokes, who is running for mayor, and Councilman Nick J. Mosby, who is considering a run, voted no. They have objected to a $150,000 severance package the mayor plans to include in Davis' contract.
"The taxpayers want more accountability for these long-term contracts with big payouts if the person hired does not work out," Stokes said. "Many have told me that they supported the commissioner, but not a guaranteed payout. I believe the commissioner to be professionally experienced enough to do a very good job, but we needed a few more months to observe that to be so."
About an hour after the vote, Rawlings-Blake swore Davis in at a community meeting in Northwest Baltimore.
"We have to fight violent crime in a new and different way," Davis said. "It's going to take our best efforts and building relationships with the community."
Rawlings-Blake named Davis interim commissioner after she fired Batts in July amid a surge of violence. The city had a record 45 homicides in July. The rate of killings has dropped slightly since then, but the city remains on a pace to reach 300 homicides for the first time since 1999.
While Davis has gained much support throughout Baltimore, he has vocal critics. After the council voted, protesters — many of them students — stood up and began to object. Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said those who were interrupting the meeting could face arrest, and the protesters began moving to the hallway, chanting, "Back up, back up, we want freedom, freedom! All these racist [expletive] cops, we don't need 'em, need 'em."
Police gave warnings that there would be arrests, and about 75 protesters moved outside the building. They marched in the street to the Inner Harbor, disrupting traffic.
"Kevin Davis does not at all have any of our interests at heart," said Makayla Gilliam-Price, 17, a Baltimore City College high school senior and a founding member of the activist group City Bloc. "I am extremely fed up, and this will not be the end."
Protesters said they were upset that Young ordered the closure of the balcony above council chambers in City Hall — just days after the protesters disrupted an earlier council hearing on the appointment of Davis by holding a sit-in there.
Young announced Monday afternoon that he would close the balcony Monday night, citing safety concerns.
"That balcony is in poor shape," Young said. "It's unsafe up there. We don't want nobody getting hurt up there."
Protesters immediately responded on social media and at an afternoon news conference before the council meeting, questioning the motivation behind the decision.
Adam Jackson of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, one of the groups involved in last week's protest, called the balcony closure "a real sneaky way of trying to curtail the voices of young people."
Wednesday night's sit-in occurred after about 30 protesters filled the balcony, disrupted the hearing by shouting out their demands of police, and then refused to leave. The protest drew a large police presence to City Hall in the early morning of Thursday. In the end, 16 protesters who refused to leave after receiving warnings from police were arrested and charged with trespassing.
Davis' five-year, $200,000 annual contract now goes before the Board of Estimates for approval Wednesday. That spending panel is controlled by the mayor.
Davis, 46, is a former Anne Arundel County police chief who spent much of his career with Prince George's County police.
In documents prepared for the Board of Estimates vote on his contract, administration officials praise Davis for training and equipping personnel to respond to civil unrest, working on a pilot program for body cameras, and increasing gun seizures.
After the City Council meeting, Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the council president tried to strike a "balancing act" between respecting protesters' rights and maintaining order.
"He understands and believes it's good for people to protest and speak out," Lester Davis said. "He respects that. At the same time, the business of the city has to be conducted."
He noted that the Young received testimony from around the city in favor of the commissioner.
"He believes Commissioner Davis is going to hit the ground running," Lester Davis said. "Time is going to be the surest proof of his tenure."
Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.