Edward Michael Davis (November 15, 1916 – April 22, 2006) was the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1969–1978, and later a California State Senator from 1980–1992 and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for the United States Senate in 1986. Davis' name was familiar to a generation of Americans since it appeared on its own card for "technical advice" in the closing credits of the popular television programs Dragnet (1967–70) and Adam-12 (1968–75).
Born in Los Angeles, California to James Leonard Davis and Lillian Fox Davis, Davis graduated from John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles. He joined the LAPD and married Virginia Osborne in 1940. During World War II he took a leave of absence from the police department in order to serve in the United States Navy.
When he became Chief of Police, Davis inherited a police department that was essentially the creation of Chief William H. Parker.
He instantly became well-known internationally in 1969 when he held a press conference announcing the arrests of Charles Manson and his followers for what are known as the Tate and LaBianca murders. His role is well-documented in the book Helter Skelter, written by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the case.
As the power and numbers of street gangs increased, the community of Los Angeles became the victim of increasing escalations of violence, intimidation, and other felonies. In response, Davis escalated police responses, authorizing the use of Terry stops, large raids on gang strongholds, created the infamous anti-gang unit C.R.A.S.H, and increasingly forceful and violent means of securing suspects such as chokeholds during arrests. Although the chokeholds were less violent than older methods of beating recalcitrant suspects, they were also more forceful and were often applied until the suspect passed out. By the time the policy was halted in May 1982 by the Police Commission, 15 people had died. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a lawsuit seeking an injunction to halt the practice permanently, because Adolph Lyons could not prove that there was a substantial and immediate likelihood that he personally would be choked again. City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95 (1983).
Davis increased resources toward monitoring and investigating political circles and simultaneously attempted to squash vice. In 1972, Hayden White, acting as sole plaintiff, brought suit against Davis, alleging the illegal expenditure of public funds in connection with covert intelligence gathering by police at UCLA. The covert activities included police officers registering as students, taking notes of discussions occurring in classes, and making police reports on these discussions. White v. Davis, at 762. The Supreme Court found for White in a unanimous decision. This case set the standard that determines the limits of legal police surveillance of political activity in California; police cannot engage in such surveillance in the absence of reasonable suspicion of a crime ("Lockyer Manual").
Under Davis the LAPD and its vice squad were known for active policing against homosexuals. Zealous officers are purported to have dangled a youth over a cliff to try to make him reveal names of a pedophile ring. On April 10, 1976 over a hundred officers, with Davis present, raided a charitable "slave auction" event and bragged to reporters that they had freed the slaves. Dozens of men were detained on charges of violating an 1899 anti-slavery statute, but the expensive raid was criticized by the city council and no one was convicted. In 1975, Davis declined an invitation from Christopher Street West to attend Los Angeles' gay pride celebration, saying that he would prefer to support sexual orientation change efforts instead.
Davis was often known for some of his colorful language. For instance, in one of his most famous off-the-cuff news comments, Davis said, in 1972, concerning airline hijackers: "I recommend we have a portable gallows, and after we have the death penalty back in, we conduct a rapid trial for a hijacker out there, and hang him with due process out there at the airport."
Davis retired from law enforcement in 1978 to run for Governor of California but lost the Republican primary election.
Two years later, he was elected to the California State Senate. He would serve for 12 years (during the first two years of which Tom McClintock served as his Chief of Staff). Davis additionally lost a bid in the Republican primary for the United States Senate in 1986. In contrast to his earlier policy of investigating the homosexual movement, as a Senator, he supported a statewide homosexual rights protection bill. He also became a vocal environmentalist in his later years.
In 1992, when he decided to retire from the California State Senate, he went out of his way to recruit former State Assemblywoman Marion W. La Follette to run for his seat. This despite the fact that the current Assemblywoman, Cathie Wright, had already declared for the seat.
The last TV interview with Davis was videotaped in March 2002 where he recalled his years as LAPD Chief and described the values and traits necessary to be a successful Chief of Police. He also related his impressions of a young LAPD lieutenant named Bernard Parks who went on to become Chief. In this interview he described how he implemented the "community policing" program during his administration. The hour long interview was conducted by Emmy Award-winning host Leslie Dutton on the Full Disclosure Network.
Ed Davis died from pneumonia, on April 22, 2006, in San Luis Obispo, California. He was 89. At the time of his death, Davis was survived by his second wife, Bobbie Nash Davis; three children from his first marriage to Virginia Osborne, a son, Michael Edward Davis, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, and two daughters, Mary Ellen Burde and Christine Coey; four stepchildren; and 10 grandchildren.