Cerelyn Speaks: The New Durham Police Chief's First Press Conference | News

Cerelyn Speaks: The New Durham Police Chief's First Press Conference


Incoming Durham police chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis held her first Bull City press conference Monday morning. It contained about as much specifics as a Bill Belichick post-game press conference. Swap "one game at a time" for "establish strong community-police relations" and you get the picture. 

If you trained your ears, there were some faint notes of detail. Asked about the problem of Durham police officers leaving the force at rising rates, Davis cited "low-hanging-fruit" incentives that keep officers happy without costing the force a lot of money. 

"I'll be looking at opportunities to improve morale through equipment needs, scheduling changes, reallocation of manpower, various types of training opportunities," Davis said. "Of course, pay is always an issue. But that's something I will have to talk with the city administration about." 

Though there have been loud calls to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement in Durham (and across the country), Davis did not sound as though she favored such a nuanced approach. 

"When we have marijuana laws on the books in Atlanta, we enforce those marijuana laws," Davis said. "We don't ask our officers to deviate from city ordinance. If city ordinance needs to be changed, we look at talking to legislators to make necessary changes. But we don't put our officers in precarious situations so they can use that level of discretion of whether to charge a person with possession of marijuana or not. I think that's a legislative issue we have to take a look at."

Davis' Twitter name was also brought up. It used to be @1divacop, as the INDY previously noted. Davis has since changed it to @1cjdcop. Why the social-media rebranding? 

"That [@1divacop] was a handle I choose for myself because many of my role models in my culture are considered divas," Davis said. "A 'diva' to me is a strong, confident woman like Nancy Pelosi, Oprah, or Barbara Jordan. Women who portray an image of strength, certainty, leadership. I understand that when I move to another culture or environment people may not understand that necessarily, and I'm OK with that. I understand. Folks in Atlanta can keep calling me "diva cop," and folks here can refer to my initials...I don't want to disrespect anyone or for anyone to misunderstand who I am. Cultural differences are so important for us to get over and understand that one thing may mean one thing to one person and another to someone else." 

Other traces of insight could be found in Davis' response to a question about engaging with Durham's Hispanic community ("We need to recruit individuals [officers] that are bilingual and can communicate and provide education opportunities to various non-English-speaking communities") and a comment about how, in Atlanta, the police department utilized privately owned business cameras to "keep our eyes on what's going on in the streets without it being a burden to the city budget. Those are the types of technology and sweeping changes that I'm speaking of—partnerships that can help us do our jobs better." 

On the meaty topics, though—body cameras, rising violent crime, and racial bias in traffic stops—Davis' answers were mostly a gooey stew of bureaucratic gobbledygook. She will "facilitate internal change." She will "work with community leaders to impact change." The department needs to "find alternatives to criminal activity" for young people. Davis is committed to "fighting for what's right." And so on. 

In 2008, Davis was demoted and then fired by the Atlanta Police Department, after an internal investigation found that she instructed detectives not to investigate the husband of an APD sergeant found to possess child pornography. A federal grand jury later indicted the man after APD took no action. Davis subsequently filed a gender discrimination complaint against the APD, accusing it of treating her differently than a male officer who was able to keep his job. Davis also appealed the decision to Atlanta's Civil Review Board, which overturned her termination on the grounds of "inconsistent testimony" by one of the detectives in the original investigation. She was then reinstated.

Davis was asked about this incident. "The only thing I can do is stand on my reputation at this point...I plan to establish strong relationships, be accessible, be transparent." Asked a follow-up about being fired and rehired by APD, Davis punted. "I won’t take a deep dive on that because that information is available to you. But anytime there is an accusation against a citizen or internal employee it’s incumbent on me as a leader to fight for myself or other men and women in the police department."

The INDY asked city manager Tom Bonfield, who hired Davis, if he was concerned about the dust-up in Davis' past. 

"We thoroughly reviewed it," Bonfield said. "We met with her individually about it, we had an investigator look into the incident, and I met with her personally and walked through the entire scenario of what happened. She has been very upfront and public about the situation throughout. And I think there is a clear conclusion to be drawn based on what we found that the information [that got Davis fired in 2008] was falsified. She was completely exonerated." 

Davis's first day on the job is June 6.

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