Memphis mayor announces Cerelyn ‘CJ’ Davis as his choice for police chief

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Davis addresses Memphis media, takes questions for first time

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has selected his replacement for Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings, who retired from the force last week.

In a statement posted on social media Monday, the city said Strickland will present Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis to the Memphis City Council this week as his pick for police chief. If approved, she will be the first woman to lead the department.

“It’s an honor for me to even be considered for a City like Memphis. It’s a major city and this is a career achievement for me as well,” said Davis in a video interview.

Davis brings more than 30 years of law enforcement experience to Memphis. In June 2016, she was tapped as the first African-American woman to lead the Durham Police Department. Prior to that, she served 28 years with the police department in Atlanta.

In 2019, she was selected as the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Last year, she encouraged lawmakers to re-imagine policing and creating databases for officer misconduct. She recommended more de-escalation training and a standard use of force policy nationwide, The News & Observer reported.

When asked how she stood out among the other candidates, Strickland pointed to her leadership experience in Atlanta and Durham, where she most recently ran a department during the pandemic.

“So, you put all those things together, and you’ll see in a second when you hear her talk, you want to work for her. You want to follow her leadership. It’s that kind of dynamic leadership that I wanted to tap into,” added Strickland during a taped interview.

Strickland said the city, which he believes is the only city that used the term “police director,” will begin using the term “police chief” going forward.

Davis comes with her own history, including being fired from the Atlanta Police Department. It reportedly involved covering up of a case. Davis fought the firing, which ended with her being exonerated and rehired.

“I knew I needed to fight what was wrong. I needed to fight for my reputation. And that is what I did. I knew the truth would not come out unless I fought,” said Davis.

The Memphis Police Association will have to work closely with Davis.

“Officers are a little nervous. They have never had to deal with someone from outside who was not originally a Memphis police officer. But I think they are also optimistic that someone new can come in with new ideas,” said Memphis Police Association President Essica Cage.

Some who were on the community panel who interviewed the candidates expressed some reservations.

“She is from a town that had 30 murders last year,” Rev. Bill Adkins said. “Memphis has had 10 times that number — 300. How long will it take her to become acclimated to Memphis, that was the big question?”

But Council Chairman Frank Colvett said this is an opportunity for Memphis to get new ideas.

“Better policing, new ideas, fresh takes on things. The first thing I am going to be interested in is her experience, what she plans to bring to Memphis,” said Colvett.

Davis said she is ready.

“I look forward to being a Memphian. I really do,” she said.

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