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Durham Narrows The Field For Next Police Chief

Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis with the Atlanta Police Department and Major Michael Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police
Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis, Atlanta Police Department/Maj. Michael J. Smathers, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
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Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis with the Atlanta Police Department and Major Michael Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police

After a months-long search, the city of Durham is getting closer to choosing its next police chief. The city manager has announced two finalists: Deputy Chief Cerelyn Davis with the Atlanta Police Department and Major Michael Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police.

Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield says each candidate has had extensive and successful law enforcement careers.

“They consistently demonstrated a commitment to police professionalism, transparency, accountability, and a positive relationship with the communities they serve,” he said.

Davis serves over the Strategy and Special Projects Division of the City of Atlanta Police Department. As deputy chief, she oversees units like Public Affairs, Crime Analysis and Community Liaison. She was also selected as commander of the department’s Homeland Security Unit and ran the Intelligence and Organized Crime Unit, Gun and Gang Unit, and Cyber Crimes Unit, among other responsibilities. Over the last 28 years, she’s held positions as a patrol officer, detective and sergeant.

Smathers currently oversees the Field Services Group, which includes three divisions and more than 300 police officers. He’s worked with the Charlotte police department since 1994, serving in divisions that include uniform patrol, criminal investigations, SWAT and police training. While serving as the captain of the Charlotte Eastway Patrol Division, he received a Chief’s Community Policing award for his leadership and help in reducing crime.

Reverend Mark-Anthony Middleton, a spokesman for the community group Durham CAN, has been involved in the search. He observed the candidates during a mock press conference, calling them “impressive.”

“[They were] capable of handling the room under pressure and the media firing questions at you in a sort of a rapid succession type of way,” Middleton explains. 

Middleton says the search is an opportunity to not only find a new leader, but to change the culture of policing in the city.

“This is an important opportunity for us to communicate in a full-throated, clear way: that we, as residents of Durham, want a community-based police model in effect as opposed to broken windows or pure interdiction, you know when something's wrong they show up,” Middleton explains.

Durham is looking to replace former Chief Jose Lopez. Lopez was pushed into retirement following concerns with the department and a rising violent crime rate.

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