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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Crime

Chief moves from music to chasing bad guys


UH police chief and vice president for public safety and security Malcolm Davis took an unconventional route in his law enforcement career.

A music fan, Davis wanted to become a band director before stumbling into a law enforcement career and eventually becoming the University’s top cop.

He was born in Galveston and moved to La Marque, where he attended high school. He played baseball and tuba in the school band.

After bouncing around several colleges, Davis concluded his undergraduate education at UH, earning a degree in music teacher education.

But local schools were looking for woodwind players, not brass musicians. Davis thought he would eventually get a teaching job, but realized the importance of having a consistent occupation.

“I was working security at Astroworld just to do something while I was finishing up school,” he said. “I realized I had to do something, so why not see about being a cop. I talked about it to my boss, and he agreed that I had the right personality for it.”

Davis started working as a police officer at the Houston branch of the University of Texas Medical School in 1976. He worked his way up to lieutenant in his six and a half years there.

But with little criminal activity on that campus, Davis decided to go where the action is. In 1983 he took a $10,000 drop in pay to work as a police officer at UH, but knew the sacrifice was for the best.

“My father taught me one of the best lessons in life,” he said. “(That) making lots of money can be really important but enjoying what you do is even more important. I was working at (the) UT (medical school) and wasn’t enjoying it anymore.

“I wanted to stay in law enforcement. I wanted a different set of challenges. To me, job satisfaction was more important, so I came here and never regretted it.”

In 1999, Davis obtained a Master’s of Science in occupational technology. He was immediately able to put his knowledge to use at UHPD, which helped him gain a better grasp of law enforcement technology.

In more than 22 years, Davis rose through the ranks of UHPD from sergeant to lieutenant and eventually police captain. In 2005 replaced Bob Wilson as police chief.

Over the years, Davis has seen a lot of crime, the most thrilling of which was recovering a religious painting.

“When I was working at the medical school, someone stole a French Renaissance painting valued over $1 million,” Davis said. “We were able to get with the FBI and let them know where it was leaving the country from, so we got it back.”

Davis’s most amusing case involved recovering a horse.

“At UH, the most fun case I’ve been on (was when) PBS hosted an auction near Entrance 8,” Davis said. “They would have a tent set up and we would safeguard the valuables. One year they auctioned off a 2-year-old Arabian quarter horse.”

A woman at the auction placed a high bid and said she was unable to pay at the event, but would contact PBS the following the day. No one noticed when she made off with the paperwork that allowed her to claim the horse.

Davis was assigned to the case and found the horse in a pasture in Pasadena.

“So we’ve had one horse theft at the University, and I recovered the horse,” he said.

Davis said student suicides present the most difficult cases. UH officers investigate and inform family, friends and teachers of any suicide.

“It always makes you wonder, even though I didn’t personally know any of those people, was there something they said or did that we missed, and maybe we could have prevented that?” Davis said. “Not to downplay the severity of a homicide, but that’s something that one person does to another. Why in the world would you do it to yourself?”

Davis said he desires an approachable, honest police department at UH and hopes he has spread this message of protecting and serving, along with being fair. Davis decided he enjoyed the work of a university police officer over that of a city police officer.

“I like the university setting. I’ve never been much in wanting to kick butt and take names. Not every crime should be punishable by jail,” Davis said. “The goal should not be punitive, but to correct behavior. What we’re truly judged on is the quality of service we provide to the University, not by the number of arrests we make.”

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