Green: It appears that 94 percent of Camden's residents are non-white, but 54 percent of the police force is made up of white officers.* Amid the tense relationships between police and communities of color, has your ability to build trust been hampered?
Davis: Even though Camden is predominately minority-based, and our police force is [54 percent] Caucasian—I don't think race affects how we police. [Note: After this interview was published, a representative from the Camden County Police Department supplied updated racial-composition data; white officers now make up 54 percent of the force.]
Of course, the [minority] citizens feel like those [white] officers don't understand their personal views about the city, and they would be more comfortable speaking to someone like me. Residents may have these negative viewpoints, but once they talk to an officer they realize, "Oh, just because he is not from my city, just because he does not look like me, doesn't mean that he doesn't care."
It doesn't matter if it’s an African American officer or a Caucasian officer; most of the time what people see is our uniform, so we have to learn how to get past that. Yes, I wear this uniform. Yes, I wear this badge; however, behind all of this I am still somebody's daughter, somebody's spouse. I'm still a human. I still have feelings. It doesn't matter what a person’s race is. My job as an officer is to be here for you.
Green: I understand that you are a black, female police officer. How do you balance those personal and professional identities?
Davis: It’s a case-by-case basis. I had an incident where one of my fellow officers, who is Caucasian, had a negative engagement, and a gentleman that he spoke to felt uncomfortable. The civilian felt like he was being harassed because of the color of his skin. I said, "Listen sir, [the other officer’s] engagement with you has nothing to do with [his] race. I could just as easily have engaged you if I've never seen you before, but you would take a different attitude toward [the other officer] because of his race.” Our job is to know who is in our community. That's what we do.
I understand because I'm from this city, and that helps. Some people are more comfortable speaking to me because they're like, "You understand because you're black or you're a woman." I get that. That trust in me [as a black woman] helps to build trust between not only me and that person, but also that person and other officers whether they’re Caucasian, Hispanic, or Asian. If I can act as a positive tether between those two people, then at the end of the day, that's what counts.
Green: When you look at policing in communities nationwide, do you still feel that race should be as irrelevant as you see it being in Camden?
Davis: It depends on the community, because different communities have their own way of policing. It doesn't necessarily mean it's racially based or racially motivated. People view the world through their own feelings, thoughts, and actions. It might not necessarily be what the case is, but you can only base your viewpoints on what you've experienced. The engagement of an encounter might not be racially-based, but because of your personal experience, that's how you view it and that's not always the case.