Mike Davis left his Hood Canal home at 15, earned a degree in social work that never produced a job offer, and became a bartender at a Kitsap County country club.
“I probably had some issues with authority,” he said, “Police work was the furthest thing from my mind.”
For the past 10 years, Davis has been the innovative chief of police in Gig Harbor, a man who brought the department into the digital age and stressed community service to a roster of 17 cops.
He will retire July 1, exactly 30 years after beginning life behind a badge.
His wife, Gaylene, calls him a free spirit, and she can rattle off the evidence. He loves old cars — perpetually tinkering with a ’48 Dodge and a ’51 Ford pickup — plays the drums, reads rock star autobiographies and wants to write a book on leadership.
Since July 1, 1984, the day he was sworn in as a Kitsap County deputy sheriff, Davis has been a cop, and Gaylene a cop’s wife.
“The toughest part was all the time away from each other,” she said. “Fortunately, we’re both independent types.”
Davis was hired as chief in 2004 after a 20-year stretch in Kitsap County that looked like a sprint. He was driven to prove himself after a late start, and it turned out he was good at what he did.
“I became a corporal in 1993, a sergeant in 1996 and the undersheriff in 1997,” Davis said. “In 1998, when the sheriff retired, I was appointed acting sheriff.”
He was 43 years old.
The only choice that seemed to make sense was to run for sheriff in the next primary. He lost, and when the new sheriff was elected, he made Davis the chief of detectives.
Davis had never been a detective.
“When he lost the election, I told him it was a blessing in disguise,” Gaylene said.
“He’d risen so quickly through the ranks, people thought he must be somebody’s buddy. If he’d gotten the job, he’d have killed himself trying to prove to everyone that he’d earned it.
“I encouraged him to apply to be a police chief.”
He was one of 30 applicants in Gig Harbor. The mayor at the time, Gretchen Wilbert, was delighted when Davis was hired as chief.
“I think he’s awesome,” Wilbert said. “I’ve never seen anyone so involved with the community.”
Davis joined every service club in town, spoke to groups or schools whenever asked, and was visible at most public events — from the Halloween closure of Harborview Drive to the annual Christmas tree lighting at Skansie Brothers Park.
“This community is Shangri La,” Davis said. “It’s that supportive of the department.”
Among the abilities he brought to the force was grant-writing, and Davis went to work pulling in funds to help upgrade the department.
“We bought a speed trailer, got our department a Harley-Davidson, put radar and video cameras in our patrol cars,” he said.
The department added a patrol boat, with help from a Homeland Security grant.
Another grant put video cameras in the police holding area — and cameras in the city’s skateboard park, which all but eliminated vandalism there.
Through it all, he’s been a worrier.
“In 10 years here, we’ve never had an officer-involved shooting, but there’s not a night that’s passed I haven’t gone to bed wondering, ‘Is this the night?’” Davis said.
“It’s a toll you’re unaware of when you take the job.”
That job is now nearly over. At 59, Davis is ready.
“I promised my wife we’d retire together last year, and I got cold feet,” he said. “I owe her travel for at least a year.”
Gaylene is ready.
“I’m the planner, he’s the free spirit,” she said. “We’re going to Europe to take a riverboat cruise, we’re going to spend some time in Arizona, then go see New Orleans, maybe Savannah, Georgia.”
Davis has other ideas, too.
“I’ve always thought less is more in leadership roles,” he said. “I think I’ve got a book in me, and I’m thinking of the title — ‘Only Sheep Need A Shepherd.’”
The couple’s only child, son Raleigh, is a student at Western Washington University. He plays in a band that is “quite good,” Davis said.
“Maybe I’ll become their manager.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com