July 1 marks Mike Davis’ 30-year anniversary in law enforcement. It is also his first official day of retirement.
It’s the end of a run that included a decade as Gig Harbor’s Chief of Police. Now, he’s ready to change gears and spend time with his wife, Gaylene. He might even sign up to manage his son Raleigh’s band, Minor Plains.
“This 30 years that I’ve been in this business has gone by in the blink of an eye,” Davis said. “When you start looking forward from my age, say 60 years old, and you put another 30 on that... 90? Yeah, right. Those aren’t going to be all productive years where I can run and jump around.”
AN UNLIKELY CAREER CHOICE
Davis, 59, considers himself to be a renaissance man. He likes playing jazz drums, riding his motorcycle and working on old cars.
Originally, he had no interest in being a cop. He wanted to go into social work and help struggling youths. The job market was tough, however, so on July 1, 1984 he started work as a corrections officer at the Kitsap County Jail.
“I have fond memories of that whole experience in the jail, because I learned so much about human nature and how to interact with all different types of folks. From the mass murderers we had to deal with to the petty thieves ... it was an education in itself,” he said.
For Davis, the time in the jail prepared him to be a deputy in the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, a job he moved to in 1988. He would learn as he moved up the chain that police work means exposure to some traumatic situations.
He remembers a suicide call as a new deputy; interviewing the person that had found a 14-year-old boy who had shot himself. It was raining, Davis’ pen ink was running and his hand was shaking: “This is real,” he thought.
It was good, however, because it was a turning point for Davis, one where he realized the trauma inherent in the job and the opportunities to help people.
THE CITY’S COMMUNICATOR
Davis has the “dubious distinction” of being the city’s longest tenured chief.
His longevity boils down to his ability to communicate with staff and citizens alike.
He’s immersed himself in city issues. When Jill Guernsey was sworn in as mayor in January, Davis was there to show her the ropes when it comes to leading a city department.
“You can get a new police chief but there’s not going to be another him,” Guernsey said.
As a leader, Davis knows that discipline is part of the job, so he tries to breed a culture that is constructive. It isn’t easy to hold people accountable, but sometimes it has to be done.
“I think the culture that we’ve bred around here is that you can fail, you can make mistakes... as long as we fail forward,” he said.
Lt. Kelly Busey has worked for several police chiefs in his 23 years with the department. For him, Davis has been both communicator and visionary.
“He really shines when he’s dealing with a community group,” Busey said. “He has time for everybody.”
Busey made lieutenant this year. He appreciates that Davis balances freedom with small teaching moments as he learns the ropes.
“He’s not one to stand over my desk and tell me how to do it,” Busey said.
THE NEXT STEP
The search is underway for a new chief, especially one who fits the department.
“We’re a small town, so it’s not just (about) credentials. You need to be relational,” Guernsey said. The application period closes Friday.
Busey said that the department is in a good place right now, but needs to keep cultivating ties with the citizens.
“That relationship with the community is vital ... that is probably task number one,” he said. To Busey, it’s a balance of being a street cop and taking time with people.
“When an officer shows up, he’s going to continue to take care of you, not just take your report and leave,” Busey said.
That’s what Davis has worked on with his officers: Go the extra mile and lend a hand. Be a community member and a warrior.
“I think (people) respect and trust us very much because we hold ourselves accountable,” Davis said.
“It’s the little stuff,” he said. “It’s the stuff where an officer gives somebody a ride that runs out of gas.”
Davis, while not involved in the search, said he’s confident internal candidates will rise to the top of the list. However, he respects the outside search.
“I hope the individual that takes over here will understand the importance of taking their time with the community,” he said. “The success of this department depends on being an ambassador out there.”