Davis makes history as first Black president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police

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Davis makes history as first Black president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police

May 06, 2021 - 23:01
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Mitchell Davis, chief of police in Hazel Crest, was sworn in as the president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police in a ceremony Friday, April 30, at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He is the first association president from the South Suburbs and the first Black president in the association’s 80-year history.

Growing up in Harvey, Mitchell Davis never expected to be a police officer. 

Mitchell R. Davis, Hazel Crest police chief, gets sworn in April 30 as the new president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. His cousin, Judge Toya Harvey administers the oath of office. (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)

Mitchell R. Davis, Hazel Crest police chief, gets sworn in April 30 as the new president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. His cousin, Judge Toya Harvey administers the oath of office. (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)

“It was never on my radar, never crossed my mind,” Davis said. “I wanted to be a computer programmer, so I went to college to engineering school at Illinois Institute of Technology.” For eight years, he was a computer programmer.

Then fate stepped in. He lost his corporate job for a major sporting goods company when it was bought out. 

“This company had its own computer programming department, so they dissolved that department." Davis said. "At that time, my son had just been born, we just bought a house so I needed a job. 

“There was a minority recruitment fair at DePaul where I was passing out resumes so that I can support my family. The Park Forest police department asked me to take a test.” 

According to Davis, hundreds took the test, but just three people were hired. He was one of them.

His police career began in 1991. 

“I had no desire to become a police officer, but God brought me here for a reason,” Davis said. After spending 10 years in Park Forest, Davis then moved on to Dixmoor to become the chief of police. 

He was able to get grant money and create a summer program for the youth, also brought in a program called Hook A Kid on Golf and designed a track and field program called The Dixmoor Dominators, all in the four years he was the chief. These programs kept kids and teens off the streets.

“When I left Dixmoor, I was battered,” Davis said. “We did some great things there. Coming from Park Forest, (where) they operate at a high level, I know how it’s supposed to be. Being from Harvey, being next to Dixmoor, I know as a person, as a Black man, I know what challenges exist and what I wanted to see done.” 

Davis believes everything happens for a reason, even facing racism as a young teen prepared him for a life in law enforcement. 

“The Harvey most people know today, is not the Harvey I grew up in,” Davis said. “The Harvey I grew up in we were one of the first Black families in that neighborhood. 

"When we moved there in 1971, it was a culture shock. My new friends joked about Black people and would call me the N-word. I never got into any fights until I moved to Harvey.” 

Deep racism existed for Davis as he went through his early teens. 

“There are biases that shape who we are,” he said. “I have been robbed three times in Harvey. When I was growing up, I was jumped three times by white teenagers who didn’t want things they were taking from me but they were doing it because I was Black. In hindsight, those experiences shaped me and prepared me for the things that are going on today.”  

After four years as Dixmoor chief, a new mayor came in and Davis transitioned to a job at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, where has worked at H-F as a police liaison officer for two decades. He worked in the capacity of security, mentor, coach, guest speaker, Prayer Club and Investment Club sponsor. 

“I’ve always worked with young people at the high schools,” he said. “One thing that frustrates me is when people say to take police officers out of the school. You have to have the right police officers in schools.” 

Davis has met thousands of kids working at H-F. He tells a recent story of a former student who stopped in to see him. 

“He said, 'Officer Davis, I don’t know if you know what happened when I left high school, I got involved in some bad people and wound up in prison. While I was in prison, I got my head together. When I got out of prison, I got a football scholarship to go back to college even getting a chance to play on NFL practice squads.'

“This man is now a teacher. He told me he tells his students about the way I treated him with respect. No matter what trouble he got into, I would talk to him as a human being, he never forgot that.”

There are hundreds of stories Davis can tell about young lives changed because of his approach. 

“It all comes down to relationships,” Davis said. “Those young people that I told you about, I didn’t just see them when I arrested them. I had a relationship outside of that contact.”

As police chief of Hazel Crest, Davis encourages his officers to have a different approach. 

“Remember that in many cases we have the power of discretion, which may sometimes allow us to operate in the spirit of the law, instead of the letter of the law,” said Davis. “We have to remember that just because we have the power and authority that others don’t, we don’t have to always use it. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we always should do it. 

"Remember that respect is a two-way street, we have to give it in order to get it. Once again, this doesn’t only pertain to citizens, but to our fellow officers and others within the criminal justice system.”    

In 2013, Davis was hired as police chief in Robbins after a scandal regarding rape kits that were never sent to be processed and analyzed. Davis said he was able to turn the Robbins police department around. 

"Walking into that, I was able to bring in Deputy Chief Wells. We came up with a game plan," Davis said. "What started out as a part-time department, we turned to a fully staffed police department. We also were able to establish new relationships with the people of Robbins. This is a challenged community which deserves the same police services as anybody else.”

Two years later, Davis was sworn in as the chief of police in Hazel Crest. 

“There are some great people here,” he said. Currently there are 36 sworn police officers in the village. “Because I wear so many different hats in the law enforcement arena, I want to be that resource. When I meet with the employees, I ask them what are your goals in law enforcement. I tell them if there is some ways I can help you attain those goals, I will absolutely do that.”

Davis is a believer in criminal justice reform. 

“A lot of chiefs are reluctant to say that. I’m not,” Davis said. “The leadership dictates the tone of the department. For me, not since George Floyd got murdered but before that.” 

Davis has been traveling the country on police reform for years beginning with two publications. One is called "The Reality that creates the Perception," which is a Black chief's view of the relationship between law enforcement and the Black community, and "Leaderships Responsibility on Addressing Bias." 

“There are biases that need to change,” Davis said. 

Davis said he was one of the first police chiefs in the country to come out with a letter denouncing the murder of George Floyd. 

“I caught backlash from some of the chiefs around here for doing that,” Davis said. 

As a police officer and as a chief, Davis has been pulled over and harassed by white police officers in two separate incidents, and that's another reason he believes in police reform. 

Davis said he worked with Illinois legislators on the criminal justice reform bill that was passed last year. Many police officers and Illinois residents are unhappy with the landmark criminal justice and police reform bill that is now law. 

“The Black Caucus has said, 'You have had a lot of chances to do this on your own and you haven’t.' The communities have been screaming for things to get done. The legislators answer to the communities that they serve. Yes, there are absolutely things in the bill that need corrected, now there is a sense of urgency.” 

Davis explains that the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police are now working with the legislators to address the changes that need to be better worded and taken care of in the trailer bill. 

“This bill will be one prominent goal in my presidency as Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police” he said. “There is no coincidence that I’m the president at this time, not only what’s going on in the country but in the state of Illinois. Trying to get this to a form that is most palatable for us in law enforcement is a top priority." 

Improving legislation is one of the goals Davis wants to accomplish in his year of being president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. 

“I would like one of our legacies to be coming up with a system by which we can partner with communities,” Davis begins. “I travel a lot and watch a lot of news stories. At the end, they usually say call Crime Stoppers. We don’t have a functional Crime Stoppers in the Chicagoland area.” 

Davis would like to see Crime Stoppers implemented in Chicago and the suburbs. 

Davis would like to see Crime Stoppers legislated because there would be money set aside. 

“I would like to see hotlines where people can call and report crime. There could even be an app created where people can send tips in and it goes to the police department. This could help with gun violence. Our kids and our communities are being traumatized.” 

Davis is against defunding the police.  

“When social services, drug services, homeless services (were) defunded, it was all put on law enforcement. We didn’t get extra funds, we had to learn how to deal with all of that. Taking money out of the police department will be hurting the citizens.”

At the closing of his speech, Chief Davis talked about the importance of empathy. 

“Showing empathy puts us in position to exercise the Golden Rule,” said Davis. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In all situations, we should ask ourselves before we speak or act 'if this was me or one of my family members, how would I want them to be treated?'”

He told one story about catching a student stealing food. 

“When we got to the hallway alone, he told me most days he doesn’t know if he’s going to have dinner that night because a lot of times, there is no food in the house. That stopped me right there.”

He still took the student to the dean but instead of being in trouble, the dean found resources so the student could receive food at home.

“There are two things about the association,” Davis explains. “Our association is a statewide association, there are not nearly enough Black chiefs to elect me,” said Davis. “In order for me to being elected, that means my peers who don’t look like me trust me as a professional to be their leader. It speaks volumes, after 80 years."

"The second thing is about possibility for a kid of color to say they can achieve this."