I attended the dedication of the newly named Chief William K. Davenport Hall of Justice, and I must say is that it’s about time that Chief Davenport’s contributions to Lima were recognized. I was afraid that it might never happen, simply because so many people who knew him and worked with him are no longer with us. As both time and people pass, a person’s accomplishments become less and less important and tend to be forgotten.
Many of Chief Davenport’s accomplishments as leader of the Lima Police Department, and his countless civic contributions to the city, are pretty well known. Less known are many of the obstacles that he faced along the way, including the racial prejudice that he faced on his journey to the top position in the LPD.
Davenport became a police officer in 1942. In order to know what Lima was like in the forties, you have to have been approaching adulthood at that time, and you have to now be at least 80 years old. There are few of us left.
In the 1940s, Schoonover swimming pool was open to black people only one day a week, as was the Lima Roller Rink. Many restaurants would not serve them, and there was a tourist home in the 800 block of South Main Street to accommodate blacks who could not get a room in a hotel.
This was the atmosphere that Davenport faced as a young patrol officer, walking a beat. The LPD had employed black officers for years, but none had ever been promoted beyond the entry level rank of patrolman. Promotions were basically political, and only went to white people. It wasn’t until after Davenport joined the department that promotions became based on competitive civil service testing, rather than on connections and brownie points.
Davenport was smart, perceptive, and an avid reader; he thrived on the civil service process. In 1955, he was promoted to sergeant and was on his way. But in 1958 when it became obvious that there was going to be an opening at the next level, the discrimination surfaced.
The LPD had far fewer officers, so there were less ranking positions at that time. The next rank above sergeant in the pecking order was that of inspector (now called major). It was inconceivable to some, either within the police department or in the city building, that a black person should hold such a high rank in the LPD. The decision was made to prevent that from happening by eliminating a position. The number of inspectors was cut from three to two, and two new positions for lieutenant were created. Following testing, the new positions were filled by Davenport and Ronald Cook. This move essentially kept Davenport at the shift level and kept him from an administrative position.
Despite knowing full well why an inspector position was abolished, Davenport never openly complained; his own family was unaware of the injustice. He just kept doing his job and studying for the next level. The new rank structure was only a temporary delay in his advancement, and at the next inspector opening in 1966, he finished first on the test and was promoted.
By 1969, Davenport had become chief, and we moved into the new building that now bears his name. It was then that his influence reached its fullest. He was chief during the riots that took place circa 1970, and I know from personal experience that simply having a black chief, not to mention one of his caliber, was a calming factor in that situation.
During his tenure as chief, Davenport basically brought the LPD, 70 years late, into the twentieth century. Programs implemented under his watch emphasized human and community relations, and community involvement. He also pushed for formal education and more professionalism for LPD officers.
It is only fitting, albeit a little late, that the name of William K. Davenport is now on the building where most of his contributions to the Lima Police Department and the City of Lima were made, and that his name will now be remembered for decades to come.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.