Sounding defiant at times, Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said Monday that he is stepping down by choice, and is leaving the department in better shape than when he took over nearly seven years ago, when violent crime was on the rise and a steroid scandal had shaken the rank and file.
“Those who know me know that I will never run away from a challenge or adversity,” Davis said during a news conference at police headquarters. “I leave of my own accord . . . I’m very comfortable with my decision. I want to clear the deck for the new administration that’s coming in.”
Standing amid his police commanders, Davis, 57, thanked his wife and three children, fellow officers, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who appointed him commissioner in November 2006.
As Davis reflected on his tenure, he became emotional.
“I’ve been here seven years,. That’s about twice as long as an average urban police chief,” he said, his voice becoming hoarse. “But I know . . . that it is time to go, to leave this department in better shape than I found it and to leave it in the hands of the very capable people who stand behind me.”
Davis had a surge of popularity in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, winning national praise for his calming presence in the terrifying days that followed the attacks. In August, half of the 12 candidates running to succeed Menino as mayor said that if elected, they would ask him to stay on as commissioner. But as an organization that represents minority officers began sharpening its rhetoric against Davis, whom they accused of failing to diversify the department, some of the candidates — specifically Representative Martin Walsh and John Barros — said they could not commit to keeping Davis on the job.
Davis declined to comment on the mayoral race, but said his decision was not influenced by who might become the next mayor.
“It’s not that I’m afraid that someone wouldn’t select me,” he said. “It’s that I’ve gotten things done that I’ve wanted to get done.”
He also defended his record on diversity. “The controversy . . . has had no effect on my leaving this department,” he said. “My command staff — that I promote myself —
Menino, who did not attend the news conference because he was at a friend’s funeral, said Davis’s best quality as commissioner was his ability to be forthright. “He never hid from an issue,” Menino said. “He always was out front . . . He’s a big man, but he’s a teddy bear. He cares about people.”
Davis visited Menino at his Hyde Park house on Saturday to tell him he was leaving. He sat on the couch he sat on seven years ago when Menino told him he had the job.
“He said, ‘This is where you offered me the job and I’m telling you here that I’m thinking of doing something else,’ ” Menino recounted.
Menino said he and Davis will work together on selecting an acting commissioner who will lead the department once Davis leaves. Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey, the second-highest ranking official in the department, is a likely successor, though other commanders, including Superintendents William Evans, Paul Fitzgerald, and William Gross have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Davis’s plans are not confirmed. He said he has been offered a fellowship at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The institute offers visiting fellowships to high-profile public servants, who lead roundtable discussions and study groups in subjects tailored to their backgrounds.
A spokesman for the institute said the organization is “pleased Commissioner Davis is considering further engagement with Harvard’s Institute of Politics and would welcome his participation.”
Officials in other police agencies said Boston is losing a critical leader.
“He has been one of the best law enforcement partners that I’ve worked with,” said Carmen Ortiz, the US attorney for Massachusetts. “We will miss him.”
Union leaders, who have had a rocky relationship with Davis over discipline and promotion decisions, were more tempered.
“We thank Commissioner Davis for his service to the Greater Boston community,” the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation said in a prepared statement. “We owe it to him and ourselves to view Commissioner Davis’s leadership not through rose-colored glasses, but through a fair and thorough assessment of his leadership. A discussion of Davis’ successes and shortcomings is critical to help guide the next commissioner.”