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Mayor names 33-year Boston PD veteran as new police commissioner

Michael Cox, who currently serves as police chief in Ann Arbor, Michigan, called the appointment “a homecoming”


Ann Arbor police chief Michael Cox will be the new leader of the Boston Police Department, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday, July 13, 2022.

Ben Allan Smith/Ann Arbor News via AP

By Chris Van Buskirk

BOSTON — Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox, who previously served as an officer in Boston for 33 years, will take over as commissioner of the Boston Police Department after it has operated for more than a year without a permanent leader, Mayor Michelle Wu announced Wednesday morning.

Cox assumes BPD’s top leadership role following a months-long search process by a five-member panel Wu named in January after then Commissioner Dennis White was fired while facing decades-old claims of domestic violence, which he denied. Cox’s appointment comes as city leaders have sought to usher in stability to a department that has dealt with a number of controversies over the years.

Speaking to reporters ahead of an 11 a.m. formal announcement in Roxbury, Cox said his initial priorities include reintroducing “community policing” and building trust between residents and police officers.

“The day one priority that I have, internally, is certainly letting the department know in both civilian and sworn that we have a leader amongst the group again and that I’m here to support, develop, include, and work with each and every one of them in doing this very difficult job,” Cox told reporters.

The new Boston police commissioner said he will work to ramp up community policing at the department, which he said will see officers “reintroduce themselves” to residents. It needs to start with the command staff, he said, doing public peace walks and returning to neighborhood events he said took place before the pandemic.

“Boston is a very diverse city, we need to go and learn about the diversity of the city and be able to understand the cultures and all the people in each part of our neighborhoods so we don’t offend them in any way or we don’t traumatize them in any way unnecessarily,” he said.

Wu said other finalists for the chief of the Boston Police Department included both internal and external candidates, but she did not identify the other contenders Wednesday morning other than to say they were “great candidates.” Wu said she knew Cox was the right person for the position as soon as they started speaking during the interview process.

“As soon as we started chatting, I knew [Cox] was the one and that our priorities and values aligned, that his love for Boston shines through in discussing every challenge,” Wu said. “And there was just such a sense of hope and excitement and joy about what we could get done together, even tackling very complex and quite entrenched systems.”

At a press conference in Roxbury, Wu said Cox will officially start on August 15.

“I do consider this a homecoming,” Cox said at the Roxbury press conference. “I wish my mother was still alive to see it.”

Cox was named chief of police in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2019 and was previously in the running to serve as Detroit’s chief of police in 2021.

He previously served from 1989 to 2019 at the Boston Police Department, where he started as a probationary recruit officer and worked his way up to superintendent of the Bureau of Professional Development, a post he held for four years before heading to Michigan.

While serving in Ann Arbor, Cox was placed on administrative leave as a result of allegations he created a hostile work environment during investigations into officers improperly voiding parking tickets, Michigan Live reported.

A lieutenant at the department alleged Cox had tried to influence the lieutenant’s investigation toward findings that did not lead to discipline for the supervisor. But a city report later found there was “no evidence that the chief was behaving in such a way (yelling, etc.) as to create a hostile work environment.”

“However, there is evidence that people feared retaliation by the chief, and they had a legitimate basis for that fear, whether or not that was the chief’s intent,” the report from the City of Ann Arbor read. “There is evidence that the Chief was insubordinate both in not following an order to stay out of a particular investigation until it was concluded and in not following an order to stay away from employees after he was placed on administrative leave.”

On Wednesday, Cox pointed to the City of Ann Arbor report’s findings when asked about his administrative leave, and said he realized “cultures are different, people are different” in one part of the country compared to another.

“What I didn’t really understand is that the mere fact that I came from a large police department to a small police department, that within itself is intimidating, that my experiences that I brought with me is, within itself, sometimes it’s intimidating to other officers that don’t have that,” he said. “... I was new to that location and new to the Midwest, and I really did not understand that people were receiving it that way and so I apologized for that.”

Wu said there was a “very thorough vetting” process where she read all documents in Boston available on Cox and talked with officials in Ann Arbor, including Mayor Christopher Taylor and the city administrator.

“And those conversations, for me, confirmed what we already knew about Chief Cox from his years in Boston, that he is a leader of great integrity, that he takes every step of leadership very seriously,” Wu said. “And in this case, had taken full ownership over any miscommunications and used that as a learning opportunity with those around him as well.”

Cox was also the subject of a high-profile incident in 1995 where he was beaten by other Boston police officers while he was working in plain clothes. The new Boston police commissioner said he struggled with whether to stay at the department after the incident.

“Part of my healing process was what do I want to do with my life, how do I want to get back?” Cox said. “Do I want to walk away from a job that, prior to that incident that, I loved, and still have an opportunity to help the public? Or do I want to let this impact me in a negative way where I walk away from that, and nobody learns from it?”

Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long has headed up the department while the city searched for a new police chief. The five-member panel Wu tasked with finding the Boston Police Department’s next leader was chaired by retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Geraldine Hines.

Wu said the panel conducted a “thorough and diligent process.”

“It had seemed when we launched in January that I was charging them with an impossible task — listen to as many Bostonians as possible about what we need for our department and our city in this moment, and find the leader who matches that,” Wu said.

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