Ronald Davis, East Palo Alto's police chief for the past eight years, will leave his post to take a new job in Washington, D.C., the city announced Friday, Oct. 25.
Davis, who steered the city out of one of the worst murder crises in its history, will become director of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). It is a role for which he has prepared for years, having focused on community-policing practices that built greater trust with residents and strengthened the department through partnerships with outside agencies.
The city expects to appoint an interim police chief next week and will then work toward finding a new chief, City Manager Magda Gonzalez said in a statement.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve in the administration," Davis said by phone of his decision.
He plans to keep working with East Palo Alto as part of his overall job in Washington, where he will be developing community-policing programs throughout the nation, he said. The city is already a COPS-grant recipient and received technical training, he said.
In his new role, Davis will advance Attorney General Eric Holder's Smart on Crime initiative, he said. The initiative changes sentencing policy for non-violent crime and low-level drug sentences, which disproportionately have affected African-American defendants.
Davis served with the Oakland Police Department for 20 years before coming to East Palo Alto.
During his tenure, he focused on improving the department after a 2003-2004 San Mateo County Grand Jury report found the force was poorly trained and managers and officers were not being held accountable or evenly disciplined. He said he leaves with a well-trained department that he believes will continue after he is gone.
He developed video programs to encourage residents to tip police on cold cases and a prisoner re-entry program to reduce repeat offenses. With church leaders and social services providers, he instituted programs that called in gang members to sign on to giving up criminal activities in exchange for job and drug counseling and medical care -- services that got to the root causes of crime, he said.
"Chief Davis has accomplished so much for East Palo Alto during his time here, and he'll be greatly missed. His leadership, innovation and genuine affection for this community have made the East Palo Alto Police Department one of the most progressive police agencies in the United States," Gonzalez said.
Mayor Ruben Abrica said the council received the news last night and today. Davis arrived at a sensitive time when the police department faced serious troubles after the grand jury report, Abrica said.
"He was the right person for the time. He has done a tremendous job of strengthening the department to be more professional. He leaves the department very well run and much more appreciated by the community. I certainly wish him the best. We'll miss him, but we congratulate him," he said by phone.
Davis said he does leave with two things he wanted to have accomplished.
"I wished to go one year without a murder in East Palo Alto. That would have been my greatest honor," he said.
He also wanted to see the department get a new police building. Currently, the offices on Demeter Street are in portable buildings. The department desperately needs a professional environment, he said.
The move to Washington is bittersweet, he added.
"Leaving East Palo Alto is like leaving a family," he said.