Trooper makes history as first Black female appointed Area 44 commander
by Laura Emery, Deputy Editor
As a teen, it wasn’t unusual for Dylan Davenport to awake in the middle of the night to the sound of fire engine sirens blaring as they departed from the fire station directly across the street from her family’s apartment.
That was just a normal part of growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y.
When a young Davenport peeked through the blinds at first responders coming and going at all hours, she had no way of knowing that one day she would join the ranks of dedicated first responders in a state nearly 300 miles away.
Born in Jamaica, where her father worked for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Davenport moved at a very young age with her family to New York, where her mother worked for the financial firm DeanWitter, which later became Morgan Stanley.
“I guess you could say that I had a standard 80s childhood,” she says, laughing. “At the time, I could never have imagined I’d be where I am now.”
Davenport is now a 1st Sgt. with the Virginia State Police and is the first Black female to be appointed area commander of the VSP’s Area 44 office serving Caroline and King George counties.
But she says the road to this position wasn’t always clear.
“I was pregnant, so my husband and I started looking at ways we could better afford to live. The cost of living in New York City was very high, so we decided to move to rural Virginia,” she says.
For the Jamaican who grew up in Brooklyn, Virginia offers a totally different perspective on life. “It’s quieter, more peaceful and the people are friendly,” she explains.
When she first moved to the commonwealth 22 years ago, Davenport worked as an unarmed security guard but she knew she wanted to grow in her career and, possibly, take a different direction.
The opportunity for change came in 2002 when she discovered an employment ad for a commercial vehicle enforcement officer position with the Virginia State Police, which has more than 3,000 employees across the state.
“I decided to go for it,” she says. “While I worked in that position, I met a lot of troopers. There was this one trooper that took the time to really share the positive side of his job with me. He encouraged me to become a trooper myself, and that’s when I started to seriously consider it.”
According to Davenport, Sygna Blydenburgh, a fellow commercial vehicle enforcement officer, also saw great potential in her. “Sygna told me that she was the first Black woman to retire from the sworn ranks of the Virginia State Police [in 2006], and so it feels really good now knowing that she was encouraging me and motivating me at that time,” Davenport says.
PAYING HER DUES
In 2004, Davenport entered the Virginia State Police Academy and became a trooper after 28 weeks of training that included 1,300 classroom and field instruction hours in more than 100 different subjects.
But while there, she says she remembers looking around and thinking, “Where are the other Black females?”
“You stand out because you don’t look like everyone else,” she explains. “When I went to the Academy in 2004, that class graduated eight women. It was helpful that there were other females there, but I was the only minority female.”
In February of 2005, Davenport started work as a trooper serving in VSP Area 1, which included Hanover and Henrico. “As a road trooper, we covered the interstate counties and did standard highway safety stuff, including pursuits, traffic stops, fight calls, motor vehicle crash investigations, fatal crash investigations, and special assignments like escorts and special event details,” she explains.
In June of 2015, she was promoted to sergeant. “I ended up working for Sygna Blydenburgh’s husband at the Area 44 office, and I worked for him for a few years until he was promoted away to lieutenant. So, coming back here as a first sergeant — and as the first Black female to oversee the office — it brought me a little bit of a sense of coming home,” she says.
A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
When it comes to being a trailblazer for other Black women, she explains: “Being the first Black female to do something brings with it some pressure. If, as the first Black female to do something, I have a misstep, I don’t want the next Black female that comes along to be impeded by my misstep. That’s not something that my white coworkers have to deal with. If a white leader — a sergeant or first sergeant — makes a mistake, the next white leader that comes along is not imprinted with that simply because of their race or gender. If I can inspire someone, that’s fantastic — but I also don’t want my mistakes to reflect on anyone else.”
Blydenburgh passed away in May of 2017. “I feel like she would have been really proud of me,” Davenport says.
Current priorities for Davenport include working heavily on the community outreach footprint in Caroline and King George counties. If we have citizens who have concerns or are not trusting of the police — that’s okay. Hopefully, through contact, if they are pulled over, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s my trooper behind me, so I’ll pull over and see why they’re pulling me over.’”
Davenport reflects on her own childhood experiences with New York City law enforcement. “Growing up in N.Y., we did not have a friendly relationship with the police there. You didn’t deal with them unless you had to. It was an urban area and you didn’t have the community type of relationship with law enforcement that you get to experience in more rural, or less urban, communities. It was very different,” she says.
She also makes quality of life for Area 44’s troopers a top priority. “I try to make decisions that keep them as content as they can be in a job that has a lot of stress,” she says. “They’re my favorite part of the job. They’re not mere employees to me. We’re a team and we serve together, and that’s what drives me to continue to do my best to make the environment as good as I can make it for them.”
To help deal with the stress that comes with her own position, Davenport finds peace on the back of a horse. “I go to a local farm and take lessons there,” she says. “I wish I’d started it 20 years ago. Horses are a cool thing when you live in New York City, but not practical. As I began to see horses grazing on farms along the rural roads of Virginia, it made me really want to do it.” She also enjoys spending time with her family, gardening and playing with her dog.
“I could never have predicted that I’d be doing what I am doing now,” she reflects, “but I’m honored to be able to do this. I’m here to serve the public honorably and transparently, and to create a positive environment for the troopers that I serve — and I take it very seriously.”