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Alpena detective: ‘Good people out there’

News Photo by Julie Riddle Detective Sgt. Steve Davis works at his computer at the Alpena Police Department on Wednesday.

ALPENA — Police work hinges on relationships, said Detective Sgt. Steve Davis, retiring on Friday from the Alpena Police Department.

In 14 years of responding to complaints in Alpena and another 11 years as Alpena detective, Davis has met some of the strongest people he knows.

Those resilient people — often encountered as they reeled from the devastation of a recent trauma — gave him strength to do the job he now leaves after 32 years, Davis said, reflecting on his career in an Alpena Police Department conference room on Wednesday.

Davis stepped into law enforcement in 1990, moving to Montmorency County in 1991.

Six years later, he joined the Alpena Police Department as a road patrol officer, from which he was promoted to road sergeant in 2001.

Since 2011, Davis has served as detective, chasing leads and digging deep into Alpena’s most serious crimes.

That transition meant learning to slow down, “looking over things not once, not twice, but three times,” Davis said.

Unlike road patrol work — which often involves hustling from complaint to complaint — a detective has to step back and examine the big picture surrounding stabbings, suicides, rapes, assaults, and other major crimes, following leads and studying patterns and interviewing residents.

Last summer, during what Davis called one of the most complex cases of his career, he had to call in the help of the Michigan State Police during a months-long investigation into the disappearance of missing Alpena teenager Brynn Bills.

Police later found Bills’ body buried in a back yard in Alpena Township. No charges have been filed related to her death.

That investigation, now turned into a death investigation by the State Police, required pursuing numerous angles and talking to hundreds of people, Davis said.

Since his young days as a patrol officer, Davis has noted an alarming loss of communication skills within multiple age groups, a change he chalks up to social media’s enabling of faceless retorts and insults without consequences.

“When I was a kid, if you wanted to talk to someone, you rode your bike over to their house and talked to them, face to face,” he said. “As a society, we’ve lost a lot of that. And that’s pretty unfortunate.”

Society feels the brunt of that loss when people with differing viewpoints don’t know how to listen to one another and resort to violence — and then police have to step in, Davis said.

Since his career started, inpatient mental health facilities have closed and budget-strapped mental health agencies have struggled to keep up with a seeming increase in mental health struggles — and police not trained as mental health workers have to pick up the pieces, Davis said.

Untreated mental illness paired with the inability to deal with an opposing viewpoint puts everyone in danger when people burst into schools or churches or parades ready to kill, he said.

Like many police officers, Davis mourns a changed public perception of police work that makes hiring officers harder and wears out officers who have to work overtime.

News reports of police doing wrong do not reflect the attitude or actions of most police officers, Davis said.

Then again, he added, neither do depictions of people hating and distrusting police reflect the way Alpena treats its police force.

In a community largely supportive of its public safety workers, he can’t walk into a sandwich shop without someone offering to buy him lunch.

As a young officer, he sometimes took a cynical view of the community. Age and time have made him less judgemental and more ready to see positives, even while embroiled in the city’s worst crimes.

“There’s a lot of good people out there,” he said. “We’ve just got to remember that.”

Several years ago, Davis donated stem cells to save a woman from another country, someone whose name he will never know.

Asked if he was willing to undergo the procedure to help the woman, Davis assented readily.

“That’s kinda why I got into law enforcement,” he said.

His wife is making him celebrate his retirement with a party, Davis said, waving off a suggestion that a police retirement deserves special recognition.

“We all put our part into this community,” he said. “I’m just one little piece.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

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