City interviews two finalists for police chief

The Fort Payne City Council interviewed on Thursday the two finalists to become Fort Payne’s next police chief. A vote could come as early as Dec. 15.

Capt. Lee Traylor of the Fort Payne Police Department and David Davis, who is presently chief investigator for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, were identified by consultants as the most qualified applicants.

Council members asked them questions ranging from how they would train and equip local police officers to their feelings on community policing and improving relationships with other agencies. The FPPD is young as the city struggles to match the pay of surrounding agencies and private employers.

Traylor, a 26-year veteran of the local force, said the police department has had to rebuild.

“We lost a lot of our instructors and investigators,” Traylor said. “Many years ago, it was rare for someone to leave the [FPPD]. If someone did, they usually went on to bigger agencies -- not for a job across the street. County and city officers are friendly to each another and work together because we must. But some unhappy employees left our department and expressed their displeasure, which has caused a disconnect. There are some raw feelings amongst a small group of guys. It will just take some time and leadership to nurture that relationship back to where it needs to be.”

To fix the retention problem, Davis said he would start an internship program inside the police department to get young officers fresh out of the academy thinking about what they can eventually be doing after a few years patrolling the streets. Meanwhile, they can learn interview skills, case management, how to obtain warrants and complete paperwork.

“When I was going through college, I knew where I wanted to progress,” Davis said. “I knew there were steps to get there. The younger generation wants to get there fast and immediately have it. It’s explaining during the hiring process that there are a minimum number of years before you can do things. Steps to go through. You do your time on the streets, then when there’s opportunity for advancement, it can happen.”

Traylor said the small size of the FPPD makes it challenging to pursue opportunities for advancement, although his career illustrates it happening if an officer is patient.

Traylor said the council should choose him because “I started preparing for this job 26 years ago, working my way up from 9-1-1 dispatcher. [Davis] is a good man and my friend, but you should hire me because of my knowledge of the department and my loyalty to the city. Loyalty has to mean something in this day and time. Law enforcement is a tough profession to be in right now. I had aspirations of becoming our police chief when I was a kid. If you don’t recognize loyalty, it will hurt employee retention if some 21-year-old coming out of the police academy with the same dream sees you give this opportunity to someone outside of our department.”

After he listed some issues the next chief must confront, Council member Lynn Brewer asked Traylor why those challenges still exist if he provided leadership. Traylor said he had made suggestions but at the end of the day, he wasn’t the chief. “I’ve worked under three different police chiefs,” he said. “All of them brought good things to the table and they all made mistakes, which I have learned from.”

Traylor talked about how graduating from the FBI National Academy in 2019 shaped his insight into policing.

Davis also credited his education with teaching him how police work happens in large jurisdictions as well as small ones.

“Our job every day is to improve on yesterday. My education taught me how to research, and as an instructor, I’ve had to keep up on current events. I always take the first few minutes of class to talk about it because it keeps my mind fresh on procedures. You retain that knowledge so much better with repetition,” Davis said.

Both men said community policing is important in building relationships with everyday citizens. Davis said officers need tools to properly defend themselves but must also train to de-escalate dangerous situations with the goal of getting people help rather than locking them away.

Live streams of both interviews can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/timesjournal.

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