a legacy, a legend, a warrior
Officer Joel Davis retires with 32 years of service.
By Christin Davis
THE INDEX CARD lay on its side, held up by a clothespin about 10
feet away. Chosen from over 200 recruits as the expert marksman in Class 204 at the Los Angeles Sheriffs Academy, Joel Davis had to prove his skill by splitting the index card with one shot. He stepped to the range and an instructor whispered, “Don’t miss.” Thirty-two years later, Davis’ career as police officer hit the target as he took the driver seat of his patrol car, Bravo-95, for the last time on Nov. 10. “This is my chosen profession, but I believe that being a policeman is a calling,” Davis said. “I am a policeman because of the man that I am; I’m not the man that I am because I’m a policeman.” He first knew he wanted to join this league of professional warriors as a junior in high school. “I liked dealing with people, being outside, and the idea of things being different each day,” he said. “You may do something over and over, but when you’re dealing with people nothing is ever the same.” Davis graduated with an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Colorado’s Mesa College in 1978. Once a week while in school, he rode with Grand Junction Police Officer Rich Bacher on a patrol shift. In his two years at California State University Los Angeles, he worked 48 hours a week, never carried less than 23 units, rushed a fraternity, and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in public administration. “I was studying topics that interested me,” he said. “I knew they were going to be things that would affect me in my career, so I never missed class.” Davis was hired by the Grand Junction Police Department, and began patrolling in June 1980. “My first shift alone was a little overwhelming because it was for real then,” Davis said. His first arrestee was an under the influence driver who rear-ended an undercover police car. That November, Davis returned to California to marry his wife now of 30 years, Cindy, and was hired by San Marino Police Department, which sent him to the academy. While at San Marino, he also earned a master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Southern California. In 1986, Davis joined the Irvine Police Department (IPD) in Orange County, Calif. “We worked many shifts together,” said retired IPD Officer Bob Landman. “He is a
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true patrol partner, but mostly a true and dear friend.” Davis is known among his peers as an expert in arrest control tactics and training. He says he landed in a position to train by accident, but training officers became the central component of his career. Back in 1980, Bacher talked him into going to a 3-day seminar in Grand Junction by trainer and retired police officer, Bob Koga. It focused on arrest control techniques, which Davis said he soon after put into use during a bar fight. “Four off-duty officers were fighting with an oil worker, all trying to hold him down,” he said. “I put a hold on him that Koga had taught, cuffed him and put him in the car by myself. I knew at that point that I had found something that worked.” Soon after in San Marino, Davis responded to a call in which an Alzheimer’s patient claimed people were in his house. The man opened the door and stuck a revolver in Davis’ chest. “I could see the bullets in cylinder and I was sure he was going to shoot me,” he said. “Everything moved in slow motion and it felt like forever until I could get the muzzle out from in front of me, but I took the gun away from him with a Koga move.” Davis began attending Koga’s monthly classes. “I went religiously, taking my own time off and paying for the classes myself,” he said. “I knew the Koga system—arrest control, defensive tactics, and impact weapons (straight baton)—was powerful.” Through the classes, Davis met Charles Watts who then taught baton at Rio Hondo Police Academy. Watts was putting together a team to teach arrest control, and asked Davis if he’d be interested; he started as a part-time instructor in 1988. When IPD adopted the Koga system in 1991, Davis became its lead instructor. He says it was one of the most significant moments in his career. “Officers had been getting hurt in altercations, but it stopped after learning the control holds,” he said. IPD Sergeant Rhonda Wood said not all officers were happy about the newly required training, but she said as the system continued to be taught in 40-hour blocks, the officers were improving in performance, and they knew the system had power. “Even though several officers did not believe in the effectiveness of the Koga arrest control system, if there were ever a call involving a violently resisting subject, they wanted Joel there to help,” she said. One IPD officer recently took a gun away from a combative suspect. He said the training, and the automatic response it triggered, saved his life.
Clockwise from L-R: Davis (second from right) at his graduation from the Sherriffs Academy; with Cindy before graduation; shaking hands with Sgt. Rhonda Wood at his final salute; online with the Crisis Negotion Team; at a riot call-out; demonstrating a Koga move during training; Bob Koga presenting an engraved baton at Davis’ final briefing; and standing at the door of his Bravo-95 patrol car. Below: Davis and family outside IPD following his final briefing.
Davis completed the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) master instructor program in 2003. He twice received the IPD meritorious service award for outstanding service, first in 1999 for his work in starting the community police academy and again in 2006 for his work as the department’s training officer. Between his training at the academy and at IPD, Davis is said to have trained close to 2,000 police recruits. “The one person that impacted my professional career more than anybody is Koga,” Davis said. “He never accepted anything less than treating people with respect, and using only the amount of force really necessary, but his motto is ‘no give up.’ “I never wanted the other guy to get the first shot in,” he said. “I’ve never been punched or kicked; people have tried, but I was a step ahead of them. I owe that to my training.” For Koga, the partnership is mutual. “He is a very devoted student and supporter of our system, and he has developed into an excellent instructor,” Koga said of Davis. “Many in the Irvine Police Department will not know that they have had the advantage of being safe on the streets and being able to go home safe at the EOW [end of watch] daily because of Joel’s part in providing the training. “I am proud to have him as a friend and student,” he said. From the unique cases—such as arresting a man with 1,000 Krugerrand gold coins equal to roughly $2 million today—to those of true sadness—including witnessing two people commit suicide—Davis said an officer can’t let the individual cases impact you or the way you do the job. “I’ve always tried to stay away from being a cynic, from only seeing bad things in people,” he said. “The majority of people we deal with are good, honest people that maybe made a mistake.” For the last six years, Davis has also interacted with those in high stress scenarios as a crisis negotiator for the SWAT team. “You have to really hear what the person is saying,” he said. “It teaches you to listen to what’s really in the message.” Davis says he’s most proud of his 32 years of service. “I feel good when I put on the uniform; it’s a symbol of trust, a recognition to the public of somebody willing to help,” he said. “The biggest thing is the badge—a badge saying you will do what’s right and not abuse that. I’m proud to wear it.” Throughout his career, Davis said it is his faith that kept him sane. “I turned to God for strength to deal with the things I had to see and do; I always had a partner with me,” he said. “I don’t know how many thousands of silent prayers I’ve said for people.” A Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) volunteer recently wrote a letter to Davis, thanking him for his interaction with a family after notifying them about the death of
their son. She also nominated him for a TIP award for outstanding officers. “Those type of things mean so much to you,” Davis said. He has a book of thank you letters from people throughout his career, “atta boys,” as they call them in the department. Every now and then, he said, he looks through the letters. “I have had a blessed career—I’m healthy and I’ve impacted a lot of people in the community and a lot of officers,” he said. “I will never know what impact I truly did have. Some officers might not even recognize something they trained to do saved their life. That’s been my goal for training: to give tools to officers that they can use that may save a life.” Wood said the department is losing a legend. “His knowledge and skills will be greatly missed here as there are no others who have his level of training and experience at the Irvine Police Department,” she said. Inside Bravo-95, Davis drove through a line of fellow officers, all standing in salute of him and his career. “Many people think that when an officer retires they won’t be remembered,” said IPD Officer Mario Casas. “Not you. You have an incredible legacy here that cannot be forgotten.”
“I feel good when I put on the uniform; it’s a symbol of trust, a recognition to the public of somebody willing to help.”
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