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Chief strives to make mark on Bath

July 31, 1998

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The town proper - technically named the Town of Bath - may have only 735 residents.

But law enforcement authorities in what's more commonly known as Berkeley Springs have many more people than that to keep an eye on, said new Bath Police Chief Dale Davis.

"It seems like we have a lot more residents than we do because we have a lot of tourists," said Davis, 56, who was named as a permanent replacement for former Chief Vincent du Cellier on July 17.

The county seat of Morgan County, the town draws people who live outside town limits, day and night, for both legitimate and not-so-legitimate business, he said.

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U.S. 522 brings traffic through town, causing backups on weekends and holidays far exceeding the norm for a town of its size, Davis said.

Kids from all over the county gravitate to Berkeley Springs State Park in the middle of town and the streets around it, he said.

A town police officer since 1990 and acting chief since du Cellier left this winter, Davis knows the challenges of his new post all too well.

In fact, it was the negative changes he saw in a growing Morgan County that lured him into police work in the late 1980s, he said.

"I thought if I was in law enforcement, I could attempt to at least make a change and help the young people out," said Davis, who retired in 1978 after 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

It turned out he liked the field, which is really about helping people, especially when he gets to see them on a regular basis in the community, he said. And he thinks he has made at least a small difference with the county's youth.

"I'm sure I've left my mark with some of them," said Davis, who was instrumental in getting a Boys and Girls Club started in the county a few years ago.

If not for a stint as a U.S. Navy recruiter in Winchester, Va., in the early 1970s and a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast in 1985, Davis might never have settled in Morgan County.

The Cumberland, Md., native was barely 17 and a high school dropout when he joined the Navy and shipped out of the area, he said.

Over the next 20 years, he earned his high school equivalency, learned a trade, served on five different ships, saw a nice chunk of the world and did two tours of shore duty.

He met his third and current wife, Sallie, during a tour of duty with the Naval Construction Battalion in Gulfport, Miss.

Davis bought land in the southern part of Morgan County and made a lot of good friends in the area during his assignment in Winchester, he said.

Following his retirement, he went to work as a welder, fitter and barge captain in the oil fields of Mississippi and Louisiana.

When a hurricane hit in 1985, Davis decided to head back to West Virginia. He settled in Morgan County the next year, he said.

"You can travel all over the world, but I'll tell you what, when you're born and raised in the mountains, it's hard to get away from it," Davis said.

He worked briefly in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Winchester before taking a job as a jailer at the old Morgan County Jail in March 1987. By October, he'd become a deputy with the Morgan County Sheriff's Department.

A drinking problem cut short his career with the sheriff's department, Davis said.

He went into a rehabilitation program and got his life back together, he said.

"I came out of rehab in February 1990 and have been clean ever since," Davis said.

Ten months later, he got a second chance in law enforcement when the Bath Police Department was down a full-time officer who went to serve in Operation Desert Storm. He's been with the department ever since.

Thanks to a reorganization in the town, Davis will be able to concentrate on law and parking enforcement rather than wearing the many hats du Cellier wore when the job also included serving as town manager.

With the influx of new people into the county, that focus is necessary, he said.

Davis also would like to see the department grow from a three-person operation to five or six full-time officers, he said.

At this point, it's just him. He's in the process of hiring two officers now, he said.

The job pays $20,000 a year, Davis said.

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