Law enforcement by the book and then some Retiring officer brought an Ivy League mind to local police work

December 28, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Daniel Davis could have been a lawyer or a businessman backed by an Ivy League diploma. Instead, he chose police work.

Davis, 53, retired as a lieutenant last month after 26 years with the Howard County police.

A quarter-century ago, his choice of careers caused his friends' jaws to drop.

"A few people have questioned me over the years about my particular career choice after going to Cornell," Davis said. "But I decided to throw my lot with the local police."

Colleagues say his work ethic and high expectations resulted in key programs in the department, from a 1970s burglary-prevention project whose major initiatives are still in force today to the Auxiliary Police Force begun in 1995.

"Everyone needs the Dan Davises to make us better," said Police Chief James N. Robey. "We all think that we're doing good enough. Dan always wanted to see more."

In 1967, even as Davis was finishing up his senior year at Cornell University -- majoring in economics -- he had plans for a law career. But during those turbulent times, Davis learned something about himself: He would never be able to bring himself to defend a guilty person.

He also discovered that his fellow students and professors often held a dim view of law enforcement, something that wasn't true for Davis, who worked during his college summers for the Maryland Marine Police.

So Davis gave up on a law career. Instead, after holding a series of unfulfilling jobs, he began applying for work with area police departments, finally joining the Howard County Police Department in November 1971.

He started as a patrol officer but quickly was promoted to detective, sergeant and then, in 1980, lieutenant.

To better take advantage of his ability and education, superiors had transferred him to research and planning in 1975. There he wrote a successful grant application in 1976 that received $333,000 over three years from the federal government to fight burglary.

That program -- "Target: Burglar," one of the county's first crime-prevention initiatives -- received national recognition. Many of its initiatives, including community policing, neighborhood watch groups and property identification, are still being used by Howard County police today.

In 1995, Davis, who already was heading the department's special operations division, was tapped by Robey to create and run the auxiliary police.

The auxiliary police are volunteers who help police at crime scenes and at accident scenes, assist stranded motorists and perform community services.

The 25-odd auxiliary officers racked up 702 hours last month, freeing officers to conduct investigations.

Davis says that while the burglary prevention project and the auxiliary force were accomplishments, he feels the way he treated young, talented officers is his most meaningful legacy.

"After their initial training, police are often thrown in to sink or swim," Davis said. "I had a nurturing quality. When an officer did a good job, I let his superiors know. I shared my insights and was thoughtful."

Colleagues recalled Davis' unceasing demand that his officers work hard and get the job done right.

"He wasn't always the easiest person to get along with," said Lt. Tim Branning, who heads the police narcotics and vice division. "But he really did care about people, about the department. He was always requiring the most out of people."

Davis -- married to JoAnn, 48, and with three grown children -- is now living in Florida where he's raising Angus cattle and horses.

His high standards apparently remain intact. He says he now raises some of the best beef cattle around.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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