In November of 2013, Ronald L. Davis was appointed by the Attorney General to serve as the Director of the COPS Office. He comes to Washington, D.C., after serving for 20 years with the Oakland, California Police Department and eight years as the chief of the East Palo Alto, California Police Department. In late December he sat down with Deborah Spence, Supervisory Analyst and founding editor of the Dispatch, to discuss his views on community policing and his vision for the COPS Office.
CP Dispatch: Welcome to the COPS Office! One of the issues we continually face is that while community policing is not a new concept, many agencies still do not see it as the driving philosophy of how they do business. They say they do community policing but then will describe programs like bike patrols and community meetings as the evidence. Why do you think we continue to see this disconnect?
Director Davis: Thank you. The fact that community policing continues to be viewed as a program rather than a business model is a reflection of daily operations in most agencies. Responding to calls for service remains at the core of what police do every day, effectively relegating everything else to a program that can be implemented or ceased depending on resource availability. I believe that most agencies aspire to be community policing agencies, but find themselves challenged by the ongoing need to meet traditional demands. And in many cases, these demands are reactive in nature rather than proactive, and do not go to the root of crime and violence. If we are to advance community policing to become the core strategy in reducing crime and violence, we must evolve in how we, as a profession, do business. As the Attorney General has stated, “...we can become both smarter and tougher on crime.” I believe the COPS Office will play a critical role in helping the field achieve this goal.
CP Dispatch: Another part of the equation must also be educating the public on what community policing is and what they should expect of the police in order to hold agencies accountable in this new paradigm.
Director Davis: Absolutely. We need to help communities change their expectations of their police and base their expectations on performance measures that will actually improve their lives, and practices that are based on evidence and science. It is not enough to know how many calls an agency receives, or focus on how fast police get to non-emergency calls; rather, our focus should be on whether they solved the problem that was leading to those calls in the first place. We also must, as a field, embrace policing as a real partnership between officers and citizens: a partnership that has responsibilities and expectations of each other. Community policing must extend beyond the community meeting as the pinnacle of engagement.
CP Dispatch: You have worked in both a larger agency and led a smaller agency. How have these experiences influenced your theories on how to assist agencies in advancing along the community policing continuum?
Director Davis: The experiences demonstrated to me that agencies of different sizes are more similar than we often allow for. Also that community policing is equally effective in both settings. This is because when it comes down to it, both are policed the same way. In large agencies, we don't police the city as a unit, but rather divide it into neighborhoods, each with its own culture and needs. Agencies the size of Oakland are divided into precincts that are the size of agencies like East Palo Alto, and that is the unit at which most work is done. So while large and small agencies have different managerial challenges, they, in many cases, still perform the same job at essentially the same unit level. You police at a neighborhood level whether you have one precinct or 70.
CP Dispatch: You have a long history as an advocate for increased police participation in prisoner re-entry efforts. While you are not alone in this call to action, this is an area in which change has been slow and difficult. Why is it important to you?
Director Davis: Re-entry is the traditional responsibility of state and county agencies, which makes it easy for municipal law enforcement to view it as not their problem. But to truly embrace community policing, local police must engage in re-entry. Community policing requires solving problems and addressing the root causes of crime. Failing to address the issues of re-entry leads to agencies that are attempting to solve problems while abdicating any responsibility for many of the root causes of recidivism and chronic criminality.
Police involvement in re-entry actually underscores the values of community policing in both problem solving—in terms of going outside the traditional comfort zone to solve a problem—and in partnership development. It offers police the opportunity to work with the fields of corrections and public health, and for each to learn from each other in order to better address the health and safety of communities. Re-entry is not the only way in which police can be challenged to get out of their box to build new partnerships to solve root cause problems, but it is an important one.
CP Dispatch: Now that you have been in Washington, D.C., for about a month, what are you most looking forward to in your time as the director of the COPS Office?
Director Davis: Well I am very happy to serve here at the COPS Office with its mission-dedicated team, and to have the chance to work with so many industry leaders from local, state, and tribal law enforcement. As we celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the COPS Office in 2014, I think an important part of my time here will be to encourage the field to think about how to advance community policing over the next 20 years, while using our resources at the COPS Office to spark and support new and creative ways on how we become smarter on crime.
I believe this is a great time to be at the COPS Office and in the field of policing in general. I am looking forward to working with the field and all of our partner Department of Justice agencies in implementing the Attorney General's “Smart on Crime” Initiative and criminal justice reform efforts.