The Education Of Officer Roy Davis

Paul Bass Photocopoftheweek_logo.jpgGoat leaned into the passenger window of a silver Honda Civic. Someone on the sidewalk whispered to him. Goat abruptly walked away, eyes straight ahead.

Three years ago, Roy Davis wouldn’t have thought much about Goat’s departure. He would have kept driving. But Roy Davis has been to school since then. He’s learned to read the street. So he stopped and checked out the situation. In the end, he discovered 17 bags of crack and had an alleged dealer in custody.

Davis, a 26-year-old beat cop who works the night shift on the East Shore, spotted Goat—a young man he’s arrested before—by the car window at Farren Avenue and Fulton Street around 9:10 p.m. Monday.

He knew Goat from previous encounters. He didn’t know the other guy, who was standing on the sidewalk near Goat. But he noticed that kid’s “head was up and down, up and down,” checking out the street.

He noticed that when the kid spotted Davis’s cruiser, he whispered something to Goat. Goat didn’t say anything back, but jerked his body right out of the car window. Davis noticed that Goat avoided eye contact with anyone as he speedily walked into a nearby store.

He might not have noticed all that when he started on the beat, he said. He wouldn’t have concluded he should stop and check it out.

“If you were talking to somebody in a car, when you see me, would you automatically walk away without saying good-bye?” he asked, reflecting on the encounter in an interview. “It was the way he was walking away from the vehicle. [On the beat] you start to see the people, how they react. It’s tough to explain to people who aren’t out there everyday.”

Davis’s supervisor, East Shore top cop Lt. Jeff Hoffman, can explain it. Malcolm Gladwell explained it in his book Blink, Hoffman said: After a while on a job, some people develop a sixth sense. “Thinking without thinking,” as Gladwell put it. They respond fast to suspicious movements that others don’t notice. Some soldiers, for instance, develop that sense.

Officer Davis has developed that sense, Hoffman said.

“He’s a great example of police instinct,” Hoffman said. “After repeated examples of something, you get it right.”

Davis said it’s a skill he’s learned by going to school. He’s still enrolled, he said. His classroom is Farren Avenue. His teachers: experienced partners on the beat.

Itching To Leave The Classroom

Before hitting the streets, Davis spent time in a conventional classroom, too, at New Haven’s police academy.

He spent 27 weeks at the academy in order to get the badge. He read up on law. He got help with his spelling. He found it useful. But the whole time he was “itching to get out.”

Even though he’s the son and grandson of cops, Davis didn’t originally intend to become a cop when he moved to New Haven from small-town Millis, Mass. He came here to study at University of New Haven in order to go into the field of juvenile probation.

That changed when he had a job working the back door at the old Bottega Lounge. He got to know extra-duty cops. One of them, New Haven Sgt. Robert Criscuolo, regaled him with tales of working narcotics. Davis decided that was his calling.

Dad, who retired from the Natick, Mass., force, told Davis what to expect at the academy: eight weeks of basic training.

Dad was wrong.

Not only was New Haven’s training more than three times longer than in dad’s day. It involved reading books and other academic pursuits.

Davis learned important lessons there, he said. But as soon as he was patrolling East Shore, he discovered “there’s nothing can prepare you for what you learn on the streets.”

It helped to have expert teachers. Hoffman has paired him with older, experienced officers. Davis patrolled at first with David Zaweski, a pro at building solid, evidence-based drug cases that begin with hunches like spotting a fishy license plate. Davis patrolled as well with Derek Gartner, who has been pulling guns off the street after similar encounters. They both taught him how to read the street.

Davis has also patrolled with William Gargone. In their down time, Gargone takes the younger cop (what permission from city building officials) into abandoned properties. They practice how to explore spaces where you don’t know who may be hiding where—how to enter rooms, how to back each other up and protect hallways.

On Monday night’s stop, Goat slipped into a deli when Davis came to the corner. Davis approached the passenger in the Silver Honda Civic with whom Goat had been chatting the moment before. Gargone spoke to the driver.

Davis recognized the passenger from previous incidents on Judith Terrace. He asked the passenger if he knows Goat. The passenger said no—which Davis knew wasn’t true. “I see them hanging together all the time at the store.”

The driver, meanwhile, nervously shuffled papers on his lap. “He’s just nervous. You can see his chest pumping.” Another sign that something was up.

Gargone asked the driver to step out of the car. Seventeen bags of crack fell to the ground.

The cops then found a black plastic bag in the back seat. Inside, $60 in cash and 36 bags of heroin were wrapped in a white Hanes T-shirt.

At the police station, marshals found $801 in cash folded and hidden behind some cards inside the driver’s wallet.

Goat, meanwhile, got away. Davis expects to run into him again.

Squirrel’s Trail

Davis said he still has plenty to learn. How to communicate well with people, for instance. People like Squirrel’s mom.

Squirrel’s mom used to hate Davis. Davis arrested Squirrel’s older brother a few times for street robberies. Squirrel, who’s in his late teens, has been getting in some trouble, too. Davis comes looking for Squirrel when he gets a report that Squirrel might be involved in a crime, or if he’s been violating his probation on previous charges. Squirrel’s mom hasn’t been much help.

“She breached me out in the street one day,” Davis recalled of one encounter around two years ago. “She called me every name in the book.” She called his supervisors, complaining that Davis was out to get her kids.

At first he felt like asking her, “What did I do to you?”

Then he realized: “It’s nothing personal.”

Also, he had a theory about why she was yelling at him rather than his partner: “‘Davis!’ is easier to yell then ‘Zaweski!’”

Davis said he worked on letting her know he didn’t have anything against her kids. “I’m not there to jam anybody up. I’m just taking a report.”

One day, Squirrel went missing. Davis gave mom a heads-up that police were looking for him, that he was in trouble. When Squirrel turned up, mom brought him to the police department herself, avoiding a possible confrontation with cops.

Over time, she came to trust Davis. Or at least cooperate. This week, on Tuesday night, Davis got a report that Squirrel was seen in a housing complex with an illegal gun. He was said to be in a dispute that could turn dangerous.

Davis couldn’t find Squirrel at the complex. Davis then headed to Squirrel’s house. Mom was there.

“She invited me in. She was awesome. She told me three places Squirrel might be hiding. She gave me names of people he might be hanging with. She consented to have me search his room.”

Looking Up

The Education of Officer Davis continues. On some nights recently he has been pulled from the East Shore to participate in “Operation Corridor,” patrolling neighborhoods recently plagued by murders. He stopped to talk to one young man in Newhallville who was on the street around midnight—holding, it turned out, a loaded Glock. “Guys don’t really walk around with weapons” as much back on the East Shore, he said.

Davis hopes to graduate to the next level—to become a narcotics detective. He wants to build on his street knowledge to piece together evidence to capture not just dealers, but suppliers.

“I love doing narcotics. The chase—catching the bad guy. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Davis, an avid scuba diver and golfer. “It’s like you versus them in a puzzle. Their whole job is not to get caught. It almost becomes a game.”


Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:

Shafiq Abdussabur
Maneet Bhagtana
Scott Branfuhr
Dennis Burgh
Sydney Collier
David Coppola
Joe Dease
Milton DeJesus
Brian Donnelly
Anthony Duff
Bertram Etienne
Paul Finch
Jeffrey Fletcher
Renee Forte
Marco Francia
William Gargone
William Gargone & Mike Torre
Derek Gartner
Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
Dan Hartnett
Ray Hassett
Robin Higgins
Ronnell Higgins
Racheal Inconiglios
Hilda Kilpatrick
Peter Krause
Amanda Leyda
Anthony Maio
Steve McMorris
Stephanie Redding
Tony Reyes
Luis & David Rivera
Salvador Rodriguez
Brett Runlett
David Runlett
Marcus Tavares
Martin Tchakirides
Stephan Torquati
Gene Trotman Jr.
Kelly Turner
John Velleca
Alan Wenk
Michael Wuchek
David Zannelli
David Zaweski

(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)

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posted by: diver119 on May 7, 2010  3:46pm

Go get’em Seaweed!

posted by: Roys Biggest Fan on May 7, 2010  4:46pm

Good job Officer Davis.  we need young, hard working Officers as yourself in our community.  I’m glad you were recognized for hardwork and productivity rather than watching a stop sign.  Thank you for your service

posted by: Community Policing on May 7, 2010  5:21pm

Go get em Kiddo! We could use a whole crew of young hard working officers in this City! Keep your head up and keep on keepin on! You’ll get there one day.  Each and every day is a new day in the classroom and a new day to learn something new.  Stay safe out there!

posted by: L on May 7, 2010  9:03pm

Thanks, Officer Davis, we appreciate your work and attention. I recognize you as one of our cops from over here in the Heights. I am glad we have officers like you and Lt. Hoffman - makes me feel a little safer.

posted by: Grasshopper on May 7, 2010  9:31pm

Wise man say: young student now become teacher.

posted by: William Kurtz on May 8, 2010  9:15am

Seems like winning the cooperation of the mother of a young man in regular trouble with the law is what community policing is really all about.  Nice work, Officer.