As Lynnwood Police Chief Tom Davis prepares to retire at the end of the month, the outgoing career police officer has been reflecting on his time after more than three decades on the job and on what the future holds.
“I have been in this profession my entire adult life,” he said. “After 33 years, it is time to step away and begin focusing on the next chapter of my life.”
Earlier this month, Davis announced he would be retiring July 31. He was appointed chief of the Lynnwood Police Department in 2016. Prior to that, he was serving in a leadership position at the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. The chief position will be filled by Deputy Police Chief Jim Nelson, who was named interim police chief last week.
Though Davis can’t recall what influenced his decision to enter law enforcement, he said watching his parents work in public service from a young age might have been what put him on the path to becoming a police officer.
“I knew it to be a well-respected profession and as a young person looking to start a career, it certainly sounded exciting as well,” he said.
Looking back, Davis said he is proud of the work to push a culture shift in the way policing is done in Lynnwood. One way has been building relationships with community members through outreach efforts. Programs like the Cops and Clergy, which has been recognized regionally; the Police Chiefs Community Advisory Committee; and the annual Lynnwood Police Kids Camp, which offers scholarships to kids from low-income families, were put in place to strengthen these relationships.
“Each (program) affords an opportunity for what I call ‘non crisis’ interactions with our community,” he said. “This is how long term, meaningful police-community relationships are built. This is how trust is built.”
The department has also been developing a partnership with the neighboring Community Health Center to build a new treatment-based jail and modernized policing facility. With the proposed facility, the department will be able to provide repeat offenders with substance abuse rehabilitation and mental health services.
Recent civil unrest caused by reports of racial bias in policing has sparked new conversations about police reform. According to Davis, the key to navigating these challenging times and enacting change is strong leadership and wisdom on both sides of the debate.
“Policing should be a reflection of society’s values and beliefs and, as society’s values and beliefs change, so should policing,” he said. “However, what is also very important to remember is that policing in democratic society is the toughest job in this country. By this very existence, conflict is inherently ingrained in a democratic system that has given authority to another.”
In the last four years, Davis said Lynnwood officers have received three times the national average of training for police agencies the department’s size, including de-escalation training and crisis intervention. The department has also equipped every patrol vehicle with less lethal equipment, he said.
Davis stated that he has worked to diversify the department, noting that 38% of the department’s employees hired in the last four years have been people of color.
Moving forward, the outgoing chief said he is optimistic about the department’s future as long as officers remember to continue to build relationships with the community and not allow a national narrative to set the terms of community-police relations.
“If we don’t work hard to define our own local narrative, then the default is the national narrative,” he said. “The relationship between police and the community is like a pendulum — it is constantly in motion and always changing. I have seen it shift many times in my career and it will continue to do so over the course of their own careers.”
— By Cody Sexton