Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced Monday that Durham, North Carolina Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis is his pick to become the next leader of the Memphis Police Department.
If approved by the Memphis City Council, Davis would be the first woman to serve as police director and the first person from outside the MPD to lead the department since E. Winslow “Buddy” Chapman, whose tenure ended in 1983.
The city council will take a vote in May on Davis’ new post. She is set to officially resign from her position in Durham on June 11. Davis has led the police department there since 2016.
Strickland introduced Davis during a 30-minute video interview with Deidre Malone, president/CEO of The Carter Malone Group. The video was released to various news outlets and social media sites. It is also being shared over social media.
Davis, an African-American, talked about her experience as deputy police chief in Atlanta and as chief in Durham.
“Gun violence is the norm, and it shouldn’t be that way,” said Davis. “My heart has always been in the community. I care a lot about young people and the future of young people.”
According to one city official, some misgivings have been expressed because Davis is a woman coming in from outside the city.
“There has been an uproar in the community because a Black woman will be the new police chief,” said Memphis City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson. “Women bring special gifts and talents to a position just like a man does. This outcry is unfounded.”
Robinson, whose district stretches from Whitehaven to Hickory Hill, said her phone has been ringing since the mayor’s announcement.
That is how she got the news that a new police director had been named. Robinson said she was thrilled that Davis had been selected.
“As a Black woman, myself, in a leadership position, these negative comments have been hurtful,” said Robinson. “All African-American women in leadership have the same problems.
“They get push-back, not only from Caucasians, but also from their own community, especially African-American men. They don’t feel she can make the changes necessary for Memphis, just because she is a woman. And, that is ridiculous.”
Former city councilwoman TaJuan Stout Mitchell, posted on Facebook:
“Congratulations to the new MPD Director, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis! Welcome to Memphis! I wish you success and will be praying for you and the Memphis Police Department.”
Davis said in the video that she comes from a military family of six children. Criminal justice always has been of interest to her.
“There were six children, and my life has always been a life of structure, a life of service, and we had parents who taught us to care about other people,” Davis said. “My parents tried to talk me out of a career in law enforcement. But that changed, and they have enjoyed watching my career progress.
Dr. Bill Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith and member of the civic search committee for police director, said that three top prospects were chosen from a field of eight.
“We looked at eight excellent candidates,” said Adkins. “We gave them grades from ‘A to F,’ just like in school. There were three candidates who scored ‘A’s, and those were the three we recommended to the mayor for his selection.”
Davis, of those three, was the only outside candidate. The other two were MPD deputy chiefs.
“I feel that CJ is the right person to lead the Memphis department,” said Strickland. “She has an outstanding career in law enforcement as an officer and as a leader. She has a strategic vision to rid the community of violent crime and excellent record in building relationships in the community she serves.”
Adkins said Davis has exceptional credentials, as did the other two candidates, but he is somewhat concerned about the period Davis will need to be acclimated to the city.
“It was the mayor’s prerogative to choose the candidate he felt was the best,” said Adkins. “Chief Davis is sharp as a tack, as they used to say in the country. But my only concern is how long will her learning curve be. We have not had a police chief from outside the department in 50 years. She has to get acclimated to the city.”
Robinson expressed disappointment with some of the comments she has heard from “Black men,” but is confident that Davis will do a great job.
“I have just been appalled by some of the things African-American men are saying,” said Robinson. “I have been hearing that some Black men don’t believe she can do the job. Well, I am a Black woman, and I believe Black women can come in and change the narrative of a place.”