To the rest of the country, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis will be remembered for his calm leadership after the Boston Marathon bombings. Bostonians, however, already knew that Davis, who announced his plan to retire yesterday, brought unusual abilities and an ideal temperament to the job.
Davis came to Boston from the significantly smaller Lowell Police Department seven years ago. It was a big leap. But Davis had the confidence that comes with experience in community policing: It isn’t the size of the city that matters, but the level of commitment from police to form partnerships with local residents.
That same confidence prompted Davis to set specific goals for curbing violence. Sometimes, meeting those targets required internal shake-ups. Periodic spikes in violence raised questions about his strategies, as recently as this spring. But the city experienced a 30 percent reduction in violent crime during Davis’s tenure.
In recent weeks, Davis faced criticism from minority police officers, who believe he should have done more to promote officers of color. But the state Civil Service exam — not Davis — largely dictates who gets promoted to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Under Davis’s order, the department is designing new exams that capture an officer’s work history, communication skills, and leadership potential, along with book knowledge of department procedures. That work must continue.
During yesterday’s announcement, Davis noted that he lasted nearly twice as long as the average urban police superintendent. It’s not crime waves that usually sweep commissioners out the door. It’s contentious labor relations. While Davis and the city’s police unions didn’t always agree, there was mutual respect. And Davis always made clear that the needs of the neighborhoods trumped the contract priorities of his officers. “I always err on the side of the community,’’ he said.
Davis’s resignation will give the next mayor a chance to choose a new commissioner. And Davis, at 57, may seek an academic fellowship. He may even be in the running to be secretary of Homeland Security. Regardless, he will be missed in Boston, and appreciated for the high bar he set for the next commissioner.