Hopes are high that whoever is chosen to succeed former Durham police chief Jose Lopez, who was ousted last year amid mounting complaints about his leadership, will be up to the challenge. The list of issues the new chief will need to swiftly address is long: a culture of racial profiling, rising violent crime, and the implementation of body cameras, for starters.
Last week, city manager Tom Bonfield announced that the search for the new chief had narrowed to two candidates: Michael Smathers, a major in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and Cerelyn Davis, deputy chief of the Atlanta Police Department.
We’re reserving judgment until we hear from Smathers and Davis on Wednesday at 7 p.m., at a public forum at Durham City Hall. In the meantime, we’ve compiled a primer of sorts on each candidate, based on what we know of them so far.
Currently: Major overseeing 315 officers in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Field Services Group.
Background: Joined the CMPD in 1994 and rose up through the patrol ranks. Has served in several divisions, including SWAT, criminal investigations, police training, and an armed robbery/sexual assault unit.
Achievements: An 81 percent homicide clearance rate while he was head of the CMPD’s Criminal Investigations Bureau. (The national average is 64 percent; Durham’s was also 64 percent in 2015.)
Relevant-to-Durham experience: In 2013, a white Charlotte police officer named Randall Kerrick shot and killed an unarmed black man named Jonathan Ferrell, firing ten bullets into the man’s body. After reviewing the dash-cam footage, Smathers recommended Kerrick be charged with voluntary manslaughter. A mistrial was declared in the case, but Smathers’s willingness to charge a fellow officer indicates his loyalty to the community supercedes his loyalty to his colleagues.
Baggage: Not much that we could find.
Bonus points: He is actively involved with the Innocence Project and has advocated for reform to prevent misidentifications and false confessionstwo of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.
Last time a white man served as police chief: 1988 (not counting interim chiefs).
Currently: Deputy chief of the Atlanta Police Department, overseeing multiple departments, including staff inspections, project management, public affairs, the Atlanta Retired Police Reserve, community liaison, planning and research accreditation, crime analysis, and video integration.
Background: Started out as an APD patrol officer in 1986. Subsequently served as a detective and sergeant, with stints in human resources and public affairs.
Achievements: She established the APD’s homeland security unit after 9/11. She was also coronated by no less than Oprah Winfrey as a “Woman Who Rules” in a 2008 issue of O Magazine.
Relevant-to-Durham experience: She’s been involved in Live in the City You Protect, an initiative that aims to improve community relations by incentivizing officers to reside inside Atlanta city limits. (Less than half of DPD officers live in Durham proper.)
Baggage: Davis was demoted and then fired by the APD in 2008, 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.
Bonus points: Her Twitter handle is @1divacop (!).
Last time a black woman served as police chief: Never.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Meet Your Next Police Chief”