Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland names his pick for new chief of police

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has chosen a new Chief of Police for the Memphis Police Department.

City officials announced Monday morning Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis was chosen to lead the MPD.

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She is currently the Chief of Police in Durham, North Carolina.

Strickland said in an interview that Davis stood out for leadership, how she can lead a department to drive down violent crime, building relationships, and community policing.

“She has an outstanding career in law enforcement as an officer and a leader,” Strickland said. “She has a strategic vision for reducing violent crime and has a record of building relationships with the communities she serves.”

Strickland said his main expectations are for her to be a leader to reduce crime, especially violent crime, and building the relationships between police and community to grow faith in the police.

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“I have a great appreciation for the city of Memphis,” Davis said. “I have done my homework....following the history of the civil rights movement.”

Davis said she feels like her work has aligned with the work of the Memphis Police Department, the men and women there.

“I understand the plight we have with gun violence,” she said. “I understand how it affects the most vulnerable neighborhoods, the neighborhoods that are mostly distressed, the neighborhoods that have come to know gun violence as the norm. It shouldn’t be that way.”

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According to the Daily Memphian, in 2008, Davis was demoted then fired by the Atlanta Police Department after she allegedly told detectives not to investigate the husband of a police sergeant accused of possessing child pornography.

The man was indicted and Davis appealed her termination to Atlanta’s civil review board.

The biggest issues on Chief Davis’s plate are tackling the consistent problem of crime and strained community relations.

“I am excited and honored to be selected as the next chief of police for the City of Memphis,” said Davis.

Since 2016, Davis has been chief of police in Durham North Carolina, a smaller city with a smaller police department and budget. She is also an outsider with no known personal ties to Memphis.

“The citizens of Memphis to give me the opportunity to get to know who I am and how committed I am,” said Davis.

The Durham top cop said she believes in community policing and claimed to have used it effectively. In her first virtual news conference with Mayor Strickland, Davis told reporters “in the City of Durham, I have two priorities. Community policing and crime reduction. You can’t reduce crime without community policing.”

Some types of violent crime in Durham have not gone down but up with Davis was at the helm of Durham Police. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports 318 people were shot in Durham in 2020, a nearly 70% increase over the 189 people shot the year before.

Davis explained that “2020 was just a year that we were unable to do the type of work that we were typically unable to do, engaging individuals that we know were involved in violent crime.”

In Memphis, gun violence has been described as a public health epidemic as 72 people have been murdered so far this year. FOX13 asked how Davis will address that issue.

“We need to utilize all the various resources at our finger types and to make sure our preventive measures and our proactive measures are implemented” she answered.

Chief Davis also told FOX13 she wants to increase recruitment by attracting qualified applicants with social media and hiring a consultant if necessary. As for the retention of veteran officers, Davis wants to first understand why they are leaving.

“Is it pay, training, or leaving for a better position?” she asked.

Davis must now be approved by the Memphis City Council.

She began her career with the City of Atlanta Police Department, according to City officials.

According to the city’s profile on her:

She is the Immediate Past President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), and recently testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter of Police Reform, in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. She has since been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and other networks as a subject matter expert on this important topic. She serves on the Board of Directors for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and has been appointed to North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper’s Racial Equity in Criminal Justice Task Force.

Strickland released the following statement:

I wanted to let you know that I’ve selected an outstanding person to lead the Memphis Police Department. Pending City Council approval in May, Cerelyn “CJ” Davis will become the next Chief of Police for the City of Memphis.

The Mayor of Durham gave us this statement:

CJ Davis is an extraordinary leader who will do great things in Memphis, just as she has in her five years here in Durham. We will miss her excellent leadership in Durham, but we are grateful for her terrific service here and wish her all the best in Memphis.

The City Manager of Durham release a statement in part:

Her impact has laid a solid foundation as we seek to reimagine policing in ways that engage community voices while improving and protecting the safety of residents of our great city. Please join me in wishing Chief Davis all the best as she leaves Durham to lead a department of more than 2,600 employees.

Durham Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton told FOX13 he helped recruit Davis to his city.

“Cerelyn Davis is part of a cadre of law enforcement leadership around the country that represents a transformational class for folk that believe American policing needs to revolutionize,” said Middleton.

FOX13 asked Councilman Middleton if Davis was effective in fighting crime.

“I believe she was effective in fighting crime in so far as a police department can fight crime,” Middleton said.

Councilman Middleton said Davis was effective in building relationships with community partners and especially grassroots organizations critical of the police. That kind of outreach is lacking in Memphis.

“There wasn’t a group that Chief Davis would not meet with whether it was contentious or welcoming,” said Middleton.

As the past president of the National Association of Black Enforcement, Davis testified before Congress after the death of George Floyd, advocating for reform in training, use of force and accountability.

Davis has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s degree in General Administration.

She has been married to Terry Davis, (retired law enforcement) for 27 years, and they have one daughter, Chaun, together. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.