Edward F. Davis

Inducted May 2010

Nominated by Anthony Braga, Harvard University


Edward F. Davis was the 40th Police Commissioner of the City of Boston.  He was sworn in by Mayor Menino on December 4th, 2006. Prior to becoming Commissioner of the Boston Police Department, Davis served as the Superintendent of Police in Lowell Massachusetts for 12 years.  During that time, the City of Lowell realized a 60% reduction in Part I crime. While serving as Boston Police Commissioner, Davis has recommitted community policing and combined it with predictive policing.  He created and implemented Safe Street Teams – engaging officers in community-oriented policing in hot spot areas throughout the City and reinvigorated Operation Ceasefire to reduce gang violence.  Since 2006, the City of Boston has continued to experience an annual decrease in Part I Crime. Commissioner Davis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Leadership Award (2002) from the Police Executive Research Forum. He was also the recipient of the prestigious NIJ Pickett Fellowship and attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Program for Senior Government Executives at Harvard University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from New Hampshire College and a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Anna Maria College. Commissioner Davis has served on the Police Executive Research Forum board of directors and was a founding member of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs Association.

Evidence-Based Research and Practice:

Davis was instrumental in the implementation of a randomized controlled trial that evaluated the efforts of policing disorder on hot spots in Lowell. He also supported the quasi-experimental evaluation of a pulling-levers focused deterrence strategy to reduce gang violence in Lowell. When Edward Davis assumed leadership of the Boston Police Department in December 2006, he immediately implemented a hot spots policing program that assigned officers to engage in community problem solving strategies in violent crime places. He also reinvigorated the Operation Ceasefire pulling-levers strategy to address gang violence in Boston. These strategies engage a wide range of tactics and partners to focus on the small number of people and places that generate the bulk of violent crime problems in Boston. While more rigorous evaluations are pending, Boston homicides have decreased by 33.8% (74 in 2006, 49 in 2009) and non-fatal and fatal shootings decreased by 39.8% ( 377 in 2006, 227 in 2009) since engaging in these evidence-based practices.

Statement from Inductee:

For the first 20 years of my policing career crime increases were expected.  Police officers were only responsible for responding to crime and attempting to set things in motion for successful prosecutions.  There were no expectations for police to prevent crime nor were we concerned about increasing crime. Police subscribed to the general belief that increases in crime were driven by issues that were beyond their control. Issues such as poverty, a poor educational system and the breakdown of the family unit were considered contributing factors. And, in fact, many police executives viewed crime increases as a positive development in that they provided job security.

Over the course of the 1990s, this paradigm shifted.  Some very important researchers and practitioners -Kelling, Bratton, Goldstein, Stephens, Weisburd, and Braga – began to prove that police could play an integral role in crime prevention.  It was through these findings that many police executives picked up the mantle and began to experiment in their own cities. We implemented crime control strategies put forth during the first Executive Session in Policing that was convened by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  These ideas included community and problem-oriented policing as well as other more recent innovations such as hot spots policing, pulling levers policing, and Compstat. Many are now well known and proven-effective strategies that reduce crime in our neighborhoods.

These new ideas on “innovative policing” set the tone for municipal hiring practices throughout the country.  When searching for new police executives, Mayors now place enormous emphasis on community policing. They have the expectation that crime reductions will inevitably follow.  A new police executive’s pledge to reduce crime, a foolhardy promise 20 years ago, is now commonplace.  Intrepid police leaders, like Bill Bratton, stride confidently into a city and are confident in their ability to drive the numbers down by implementing these innovative strategies.  Results show significant crime reduction across the nation to levels unheard of in the 1980s and not seen since the 1960s.

While the specific strategies are numerous, the underlying formula necessary to reduce crime in an urban environment is very straightforward:

  1. Community partnerships – police officers need to get out of their cars, engage with the community, and develop relationships street by street, block by block.
  2. Problem-solving – officers need to identify the underlying conditions and dynamics that give rise to recurring crime and disorder problems and implement appropriate strategies to address them.
  3. Evidence-based policing – police managers need to develop and use high-quality research on the nature of crime problems and the efficacy of policing strategies used to control and prevent crime. As possible and practical, our management decisions should be data-driven rather than based on tradition and “best” guesses.

The cultural shift necessary to accomplish these three basic ideas requires a move first from the “911-centric” mentality of the 1980s to a more holistic form of policing that focuses on prevention.  Scientifically valid research has been very helpful in moving the police towards effective prevention. However, there are many questions still left unanswered. And many of these questions involve how police managers implement strategies to prevent crime in ways that are legitimate to the community. Police managers need to avoid reactive, heavy-handed enforcement responses to crime problems that have been our primary operational mode for the last fifty years.  These knee-jerk reactions to crime outbreaks can undermine police-community partnerships by driving a wedge between police and the residents they seek to serve.  All too often, minority and poor neighborhoods, which need our help the most, experience the burden of increased arrests. Enforcement-only strategies cast a wide net. Precise targeted enforcement coupled with prevention does less damage to our future.

Clearly it is important to put “cops on dots.” However, police managers also need to be mindful of what police officers are doing when allocated to crime hot spots.  Community problem-solving strategies seem best positioned to change the underlying dynamics that cause a spot to be hot.  Crime doesn’t simply rebound to prior levels when causal factors are eliminated. Through a rigorous action research project that evaluated our Safe Street Team hot spots policing program, the Boston Police Department has learned that communities want this type of collaborative, personalized policing in the most violent places in our city. This is an old observation from the British.  Sir Robert Peel succinctly stated, “the police are the people and the people are the police.”

The policing profession has come a long way in developing fair and effective policing practices. Partnerships with academics to develop research evidence have been crucial in moving our profession towards this necessary transition. Unfortunately, these collaborations are still uncommon. I view the work of George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy as essential to spreading knowledge among the many police organizations that have not had the good fortune to work with academic partners before and to the many academics who will equally benefit from working with us.  We clearly bring out the best in each other.  And, most important of all, our communities will reap the considerable benefits.

Contributions to Grants, Publications, and Projects:

  • Braga, A. A. & Bond, B. J. (2008). Policing crime and disorder hotspots: A randomized controlled trial.Criminology, 46(3): 577-608.
  • Braga, A. A., Pierce, G. L., McDevitt, J., Bond, B. J., & Cronin, S. (2008). The strategic prevention of gun violence among gang-involved offenders. Justice Quarterly, 25(1): 132-162.
  • Braga, A. A., Papachristos, A. V., & Hureau, D. M. (2010). The concentration and stability of gun violence at micro places in Boston, 1980–2008. Journal of Quantitative Criminology26(1): 33-53.
  • Braga, A. A., Hureau, D. M., & Papachristos, A. V. (2011). The relevance of micro places to citywide robbery trends: A longitudinal analysis of robbery incidents at street corners and block faces in Boston.”Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency48(1): 7-32.
  • Braga, A. A., Hureau, D. M., & Papachristos, A. V. (In Press). An ex-post-facto evaluation framework for place-based police interventions. Evaluation Review.