Photograph by Kevin Flemming
We chatted with Master Cpl. Jeff Davis of the Dover Police Department about two weeks after a video of the officer lip-synching Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” went viral. His self-described 15 minutes of fame—which lasted more than two weeks—included appearances on national television, tons of positive feedback and a highly emotional moment at the NYPD headquarters. In case you missed the video, you can find it below the interview.
DT: Why did you make the video?
JD: Mark Hoffman, our public affairs guy, contacted me because he wanted to do a video in celebration of the department’s Facebook page getting 10,000 likes. So he wanted to do a celebration and a thank you to the citizens of Dover. He said, “We’re going to do a video of you driving around in a car and we’re going to play Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off.’” And I said, “That’s cool.” He said, “I want you to lip-synch.” And I said, “That’s fine. That’s cool.” So we went down to Schutte Park and he put a GoPro camera on the thing. And he knows how I am. He knows that I can probably just ad-lib it and do it on my own. And he said, “Just do what you want to do.” He hit play on his iPod and put it on the front seat of my car and off I went. Four minutes later, or however long the song lasted, I came back to the parking lot and that was it. That’s as long as it took. That was right around this time two weeks ago today that we shot it.
DT: How did this become more than just a thank you to Dover residents?
JD: At around 3 o’clock he posted it on our Facebook page and our YouTube page. It started to take off a little bit on that day. I was working day work and I came back to work day work on Saturday. Everybody I was working with saw that it was really taking off—maybe 300,000-400,000 at that point. I was like, This is getting a little crazy. I never expected it to get this big. The next day I came to work, on Sunday, and it had just exploded. It was up over a million at that point. Mark texted me and said, “This is bigger than us, now.” At that point, we were getting calls from Boston and all these places. Then it was on TV. It’s getting local recognition on our stations and even on Philly stations at that point. And once that happened, it went up over a million and two million and then by Tuesday, we did Fox Philly, at that point it was up over five, six, seven million. When we got to New York the next day, it probably jumped another four or five million. We did all the radio shows, “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “Inside Edition,” “Fox Newsroom” and “People.com.”
DT: How did you wind up at NYPD?
JD: We did all of those TV shows, did a couple telephone interviews and then we left. The lieutenant who took me up there, Jason Pires, he knew a guy he had graduated from the FBI Academy with who is an NYPD officer. And he took us to 1 Police Plaza, which is their headquarters. We went up to see the deputy commissioner, who wanted to meet me. We went into their Joint Operation Command Center, which is the size of our police department. We walked in there and they gave me a standing ovation. At that point, I said to myself, You know what? This has hit a lot of people and it’s hit a lot of people really deep. And it’s changed the views of many, many, many people throughout the world about their views on the police department and of police officers in general. That was something that meant a lot to me. That’s when it really hit home. I’ll tell you, “Good Morning America” and all the shows gave us recognition and put our police department on the map nationwide—we were getting letters from all over the place. But when we went to NYPD and that happened to us, that is just like, “Wow, this is really hitting home.” Especially after the execution of those two officers and, of course, 9-11 and everything that’s happened to them. And they said, “You have no idea what you’ve done for our police department. You have no idea of the smiles that you put on our faces.” Yeah, it meant a lot. That, to me, is what meant everything. The radio shows were cool. It was interesting to meet all the famous people that we met. But nothing compared to going to NYPD and getting that standing ovation.
DT: Man, you’re going to make me cry.
JD: Yeah. I was real, real close to tearing up. I had already been on all of these TV shows. The pressure was already mounted on my shoulders because I had never been on TV before and now I’m getting ready to be in front of millions of people on television. Granted, people had seen me in my video. But that’s different. I’m not on live television. People asked me, how was I not nervous? They told me I looked like a natural in front of the camera. That may be the case, but I was nervous as anything. I just happened to pull through it and did a decent job with those interviews. But I was nervous as could be. But nothing meant more to me that the NYPD and officers from around the world contacting us. We got a letter from Paris, right after they had the bombings over there. People from over there wrote a letter that said we put smiles on their faces during this trying time. And getting letters like that was just awesome. The celebrity really meant nothing to me because I didn’t really have celebrity before this. Everybody said Mark picked the right person because everybody knows my personality. I’m just kind of a carefree, do anything kind of guy—to an extent. I’m not out there getting drunk and jumping off buildings. I just like to have fun. I’m glad that he picked me and I was glad that I was able to use that as a platform to help people look at police officers a little bit differently.
DT: What were your original expectations for the video?
JD: We thought we were going to get maybe couple-thousand views, bring people on our Facebook page and our YouTube page and that would be it. But when it exploded like it did, I thought, Oh, my god. Never did I expect this. Now it’s only two weeks later and close to 30 million people have seen it just on YouTube. It’s just amazing to me that this happened. I was just being me. The positive feedback has been great. People are coming up to me and it’s been nothing but positive. Of course, we read negative comments online. Stuff like, “Why is he taking his hands off the wheel?”
DT: Do you have an agent?
JD: (He laughs.) No. I’m just back to being me now. Tomorrow, they asked me to come down and start the Polar Bear Plunge. On Wednesday, we’re going on the “Preston and Steve Show” on WMMR. I was on it before, but I was on my phone. Now, we’re actually going in the studio. My brother is going to be on it again with me. He’s from Woodbury, N.J. He’s a Woodbury cop. That’s where I’m from, originally.
DT: Is there a Delawarean that’s any more famous than you right now?
JD: (He laughs.) I don’t know. Duron Harmon is going to be in the Super Bowl. He’s a free safety for the Patriots who went to Caesar Rodney High School. I didn’t do it to be a celebrity. I did it just to have fun. I’m kind of taking being a local celebrity in stride. I’m not trying to become some big name. I’m a police officer and I’ve pretty much been in law enforcement since I was 19. I was in the military police and when I got out I was a correctional officer and now I’ve been doing this. Pretty much since I was 19 years old when I went in the military, I’ve been wearing a uniform and wearing a badge of some sort and that’s just kind of what I want to do.
DT: This has been a whirlwind tour for you and you’ve been under a lot of pressure. How has your family handled it?
JD: They’ve been taking it in stride. My wife is a teacher in the Caesar Rodney School District. She’s been busy with work and it’s been kind of hard to juggle some of the things because our kids are totally into athletics. They’re constantly going to this thing or that thing. They’re involved in soccer and lacrosse, indoor stuff. It was hard when I went to New York and I was doing all these appearances. They take it in stride. We have four kids, so we’re kind of used to the hustle and bustle anyway. The only problem was, the day before I did the video we got two puppies. We got brother and sister boxers. We’ve had them two weeks now, so it’s getting a little easier. So I have four kids, two dogs and here I am this instant local celebrity. (He laughs.) We’re taking it one day at a time. My twin boys, Joshua and Nathaniel, are getting ready to turn 16. They go to Polytech. Then I have a boy who is 13, Zachary, who goes to Fifer Middle School. Then I have a daughter, Gabrielle, 10, who goes to W.B. Simpson Elementary School. They all know that dad’s a goofball. They’ve been raised around a guy who likes to have fun. There’s more than just that (“Shake It Off”) video out there. I’m going to be on “Ridiculousness” on MTV on Feb. 19. My brother, the one who was on “Preston and Steve” with me—we were in St. Michaels two years ago and he put a crab on my ear and I screamed like a girl. The video is called, “Big Guy Screams Like a Girl.” That will be on MTV. That was before all of this happened.
DT: I don’t care what you say, I think you’re headed for Hollywood.
JD: I don’t know. (He laughs.) Hey, if I got the call, I’ve got 20 years on here, so… I don’t think that’s going to happen. I love what I do here. I love the police department. They’ve been really good to me during all of this. They’ve let me do my thing with this. They’ve worked around my schedule and stuff, so it’s been nice.
DT: Makes sense. Besides, it’s helping the police department, too.
JD: I think that’s why they’re doing it. It’s helping them. It’s helping the image here at the police department. It’s shedding a different light on police officers and to have Dover Police Department being the department that is doing that—I’m sure that they love it. They’ve got nothing but positive feedback from people all over the world.
DT: I shouldn’t tell you this, but I have had a ban on playing Taylor Swift songs in my car because my 16-year-old daughter was driving me nuts. Be honest—you have to be tired of the song by now.
JD: When you hear a song over and over and over and over and over again, obviously you’re like, “I love the song, but come on. I’ve heard it enough.” But that song is the song that made me a local celebrity and it passed along a positive message to the world about the law enforcement community and our profession. So for me to ever say that I hate that song … it will never come out of my mouth. Any song you hear a million times, you’ll say, “OK, enough’s enough.” But I’m still singing it. I was walking up the steps just now and it’s in my brain. I thought, my god, it’s still in my brain. (He laughs.) I just came from the Charlton School, here in Dover, which is a school for special needs kids. I went down there because they were having a positive behavior celebration and they asked me to come down. So I lip-synched the song again and played my video. It’s the song that made me this person that I am. I’ll do it as many times as they want me to do it.
DT: How did Gabrielle react when Taylor Swift tweeted about your video?
JD: She thought it was cool. Of course, you know that a 10-year-old girl is thinking, Man. Am I going to get Taylor Swift tickets? I never really thought about that. But if it were to happen, it would be great. But she tweeted that and that was good. I think people were amazed about me doing a video and all. Not only her, but Hulk Hogan tweeted something and a couple other celebrities commented. Hulk Hogan said he thought it was an awesome video, but he wished it was AC/DC. Angie Harmon, an actress, was another one. She mentioned something about coming to Dover and getting pulled over by me. It’s been a cool ride. My 15 minutes of fame turned into about two weeks. The department and I will be a household name for a little while, but I’m sure it will die off. That’s what happens. Around here, people will know who I am and all that stuff, but like everything, it wears off. But I’m enjoying it while I can.