Ex-Bay Area law enforcement officer to lead U.S. Marshals Service

A former Oakland police officer who later became East Palo Alto’s police chief now leads the nation’s oldest law-enforcement agency after a swearing-in ceremony last week.

Ronald Davis, 58, was sworn in Sept. 27 by U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland after a March nomination by President Biden and unanimous U.S. Senate confirmation. He will serve as director of the United States Marshals Services, which handles security at federal courts for judges and witnesses, oversees prisoner operations and asset forfeitures and enforces court orders related to civil disturbances and terrorism.

In a statement, Davis, the former director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) under the Obama administration, praised the opportunity to take on a larger law-enforcement role: “It is my great honor to lead the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Marshals Service who work tirelessly and selflessly every day protecting America’s system of justice, our communities and the American people.”

Ron Davis (center), the then-Police Chief in East Palo Alto, holds an open forum with citizens at the St. Francis of Assisi Church. With crime on the rise, Davis reached out to the community with a series of regular town-hall meetings. 

Davis, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University and finished a senior executive program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, joined Oakland’s police department in 1985 at age 21 and rose to hold multiple roles, including SWAT team leader, area commander, police academy director and inspector general.

In brief comments Wednesday, former Oakland police chief Howard Jordan recalled his time as fellow officers before Davis’ promotion to captain: “I worked for him for a brief moment in our youth services division, so I was in his chain of command. I thought that he was a qualified leader, very competent. He has no problems holding people accountable and making tough decisions. […] He has done Oakland PD proud.”

In 2005, he was named police chief in East Palo Alto, where he instituted monthly “chats with the chief” and encouraged beat outreach by officers. According to this news organization, East Palo Alto’s City Council met a gang-related crime wave and Davis’ plans to expand investigative services by adding $2.5 million to the department budget.

“The community is less likely to work with the police, provide critical information, step forward as witnesses or provide their support if there is not a relationship,” Davis said in 2007. “The department has made great strides in becoming a part of this community, and not an occupying force paid to police it.”

By the time he left the city in 2013 to take the COPS role, he had sworn in three-fifths of the department’s more than four dozen officers. “Every time I get to swear in new officers there’s that excitement, that energy,” he said at the time. “They just re-energize all of us.”

In 2014, President Obama named Davis executive director of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, tasked to recommend trust-rebuilding reforms within community policing.

During his time in Washington, he also served on one of several committees to aid then-San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris’ shift to state attorney general and later spoke out in 2019 in support of data-collection and best-practice elements of Harris’ criminal justice plan during her presidential campaign.

In June 2020 testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on police practices and law enforcement accountability, Davis said in part that “the issue of policing reform cannot be disconnected from the discussions around COVID-19 and the next stimulus package.

“Without support from the federal government, the budget cuts that local and state governments will be forced to make will hinder all criminal justice reform efforts, stall any efforts to reinvest in community-based programs, maintain existing inequities, and further expose the open wound of our racial tension that has yet to be treated. We will again be sitting on a powder keg waiting for the next tragedy to spark an explosion.”

Davis, a life member of NOBLE (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives), later served as that organization’s legislative secretary.

Staff writer Harry Harris contributed to this report. Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

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Author: George Kelly