I recently wrote about the late Chief William K. Davenport, and I received several requests to write more about him, particularly a more personal view of the man himself.
First and foremost, he was as fair and as honest as anyone that I have ever known. His personal integrity was second to none. He would tell you the truth even if it hurt, and he could not stand for anyone to lie to him.
He was an avid reader, particularly on law enforcement topics, and he insisted on professionalism at every level of the department. Although he had only a high school education, he probably knew more about police work than many people with advanced degrees.
His overwhelming personal presence commanded respect from virtually everyone who met him. It was only after I spoke at his funeral that the thought occurred to me that I had never heard anyone refer to him as “Bill.” You just called him by his rank, or by his rank and last name.
He also demanded respect in his personal life. He once told me about a salesman who made a presentation at his residence. At one point, the salesman called Mrs. Davenport by her first name. The chief said, “Have you met my wife before?”
When the salesman replied that he hadn’t, the chief said, “If you don’t know my wife personally, then her name is Mrs. Davenport.”
He was intimidated by no one. I once observed him in a confrontation with a mayor who was trying to exert influence beyond his authority. When he decided that he had heard enough, the chief turned on his heel and left the mayor standing there somewhat aghast because the chief had just called him a “silly little SOB.”
He had a knack for getting to the core of things quickly. It would take him about 30 seconds to find a flaw in a project that had taken weeks of work to complete. One time in a conversation about something that bugged him, I said that I didn’t understand why it upset him so much. His reply went right to the heart of the matter. He said, “You haven’t been black long enough.”
Probably my best observation of him was in 1960 when he was still a lieutenant. I was a newly appointed rookie, and knew him only from seeing him at shift changes. The FBI conducted an auto theft seminar that was attended by well over 100 officers from area law enforcement agencies; Davenport was one of only about three black officers in the room.
At one point, an FBI agent asked the attendees for comments about the seminar. One overweight boob from a small department, who was already committing an unprofessional sartorial faux pas by wearing a sweatshirt over his beer belly above his seam-striped police uniform trousers, decided to tell a joke instead of making a comment.
The man proceeded to tell a blatantly racist joke, including the use of the “N” word, and far too offensive for even the pre-political correctness and racism infused era of the ’60s. When he finished the joke, there was dead silence. It was one of those moments where everyone in the room felt a sense of embarrassment for what had just occurred. Not one person laughed, and most eyes were on either Davenport or one of the other black officers. No one said a word, although I don’t think anyone would have been too surprised if someone had stood up and punched the clown.
The agent conducting the seminar continued asking for comments, and pretty soon it was Davenport’s turn. He stood, thought for a moment, and then with his deep voice and practiced diction, he said, “It was a pretty good seminar up to a point, but beyond that point, it deteriorated rather rapidly.”
The FBI agent muttered his agreement, and at that moment my life-long respect for William K. Davenport was formed and virtually set in stone. He had just quietly handled an offensive and embarrassing situation with aplomb, and with more class, than could have been done by anyone else in the room.
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.