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Interim Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis speaks to members of the news media as protesters demonstrate outside the Baltimore Circuit Court on Sept. 10, 2015. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

American law enforcement is at the beginning of a sea change that will transform policing in the 21st century, and Baltimore is hoping to be in the vanguard, says interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

But moving the Baltimore Police Department in-line with a community that often feels accosted by it presents a challenge for any commissioner, with the city already having lost one, former commissioner Anthony Batts, as recently as July, as the city watched the murder rate speed past last year’s in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death and the fissures between the police and community the death brought to national attention.

On Sept. 21 Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake nominated Davis to be the police commissioner with a multi-year contract. The City Council must approve Davis’s contract for it take effect.

Departments have to move to a place where they can reward those officers who are effective at engaging the community, not just those who excel on the enforcement end. Part of that effort is the new foot patrol training which the department is developing, and Davis is also considering conducting regular community surveys to better gauge how the department is faring in the eyes of residents.

In order to effectively move the department in the direction of improved community-police relations, however, Davis believes the interim tag must be removed from his title. As long as that interim title remains, there are natural questions that arise about the longevity of any reform efforts he attempts to implement, since a new commissioner might take an entirely different approach. In a city that has seen seven police commissioners in the last 15 years, Baltimore has been deprived of the sort of long-term leadership required to change an institutional culture.

“Baltimore suffers from this overwhelming desire to have instant gratification. So while we’re in the midst of this crime fight—and we’re doing some really really good, innovative things to address it, and it will work over time. I understand that urgency must be associated with violent crime, and it is associated with violent crime, but if we’re going to change things for the better, police leaders have to be given enough longevity and stability, that not only can they be successful at things, but they can be given the opportunity to fail. So they have to be given an opportunity to fail and survive that failure, because failure is part of success. Failure can’t, and shouldn’t, always indicate the end of your tenure. Because then leaders become afraid to make a mistake for fear of termination, so they don’t try anything different,” said Davis in a sit-down interview with the AFRO.

“ have to take our cue from the community, and we have to engage in the simultaneous efforts of being crime fighters and community ambassadors,” said Davis. “You don’t have to choose one or the other; you have to choose both in 2015. For jurisdictions that have exclusively chosen the crime fight, and have left the community partnerships in their rear view mirror, things erupt in the communities because the gap just widens.”

Davis says that he has been consistent in the position that arrest should be the last tool of a police officer. When asked whether he was sending that message to his officers specifically, Davis did not say explicitly that he had done so, but emphasized that “I don’t pay any attention to arrest numbers whatsoever,” preferring instead to look at measures like crime numbers or total gun seizures, which for him are a better gauge of whether his department is being effective.

But such numbers still speak to the enforcement side of what police departments do, though Davis, who says he prefers thinking of the police mission in terms of public safety, of which enforcement is a part but not the whole, did criticize the historical over-emphasis on easily quantifiable performance metrics that do not necessarily achieve the goal of improving overall public safety.

“At times, there has been, in our profession, a disproportionate fixation on productivity, and productivity was ill-defined as arrests, stop and frisks, citations. There’s also immeasurable productivity like conversations with human beings, time spent with a citizen who’s not in crisis or reporting a crime. But because we Americans like to measure everything, if we can’t measure it and quantify it, we assume that you were otherwise unproductive during your tour of duty when you could’ve generated so much good will in eight to 10 hours, that we’ll never know about,” said Davis.