Ken Davis, PhD, teaches. He learns. And he leads, as chief of police in Jefferson City, Tenn.
With an educational background starting with The Citadel and a walking encyclopedic personality, Dr. Davis began his career as a special agent for customs, moved into working as a Federal Air Marshal, and later as a captain in charge of criminal investigation. He’s also a published crime-scene photographer—and teaches classes, too. He defended his dissertation in January of 2014, graduating from Capella University with a PhD in Criminal Justice. He’s one of just a handful of police chiefs who can claim the title of doctor. Here’s what he had to say about his experience, his career, and where he’s headed next.
Q. How did you come to Capella?
A. I looked at some traditional programs but with the schedule I was keeping, there wasn’t a way to do a traditional program. What really drew me to Capella was how they celebrated the scholar-practitioner aspect of their degree programs. Putting boots-on-the-ground people in the classroom.
Let me tell you, people that knock online schooling have no clue. If you want to complete this program, you have to find the backbone to do it. Honestly, I had more contact with professors [at Capella] than I did at a brick-and-mortar. We weren’t face-to-face, but they were clearly invested.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. At first I loved the excitement, and as corny as it sounds, I wanted to stick up for folks who couldn’t fend for themselves. I have always been that type of person. But after nearly a decade in law enforcement, I realized you don’t always have the positive impact you’d like because you’re locking people up. After 27 years, what I enjoy the most is being able to shepherd younger police officers in the direction law enforcement is currently going, and teach them aspects of the job and profession they hadn’t thought about before. I’m a problem-solver. I like to take problems the community has and try to fix them. I feel like I have the tools now.
Q. Why did you go into your field?
A. My father was a police officer. I had kicked around the idea of teaching and coaching, and it was the route I was taking up until the last semester. But I was bitten by the law enforcement bug. My father tried to push me away: The money’s bad, and hours are terrible, he told me. It’s not the job of a family man. But I sorta went in it to honor him, at the end of the day. My son has since followed me in—it seems to be a family business at this point.
Q. Not many police chiefs are called doctor. Why did you pursue a doctorate?
A. There are maybe 200 of us nationwide. I’ve always been interested in higher education, and I wanted to use my master’s in teaching. I wound up teaching forensics while I was working in law enforcement. I thought I’d want to take it to the next level, so I entered the doctoral program in public safety. I will continue to teach. And when I retire, I’ll have a fallback. I hear so many folks complain, “We can research all we want, but when it’s done by people who have never done the job, they don’t understand how it is.” This gives me the credibility to research and evaluate articles.
Q. What are the biggest challenges and the biggest point of pride in law enforcement, from your point of view?
A. We’re going to find ourselves challenged more and more every day in a public safety realm. As public safety officials, we have to be more proactive in preventing crime and in our relationships with the community. You hear people talk about community policing, but there are very few folks who know what community policing actually is. Another huge hurdle is the integration of public safety from an emergency-management perspective—law enforcement taking a more proactive stance with incidents and events where we are integrating with all of the different disciplines within public safety: fire departments, corrections agencies, 911 dispatch, etc.
On the flip side, we are really good at adapting to requirements and new ways of thinking. We’re seeing more highly educated officers, especially with the availability of online learning. We are bringing the level of service up. If you know and understand the root cause of certain types of crime, you can proactively do things to address it.
Q. What is one thing your colleagues would be surprised to know about you?
A. I love to write. In fact, I wrote an article on school violence, which appeared in the International Association Chief of Police magazine. Someone in the office noticed—and came in my office and said “Someone used your name in writing!” I explained that no, I actually did write that.
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