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Wu taps Michael Cox to head Police department

Anna Lamb
Wu taps Michael Cox to head Police department
Michael Cox speaks to reporters during a press conference at Gertrude Howes Playground. BANNER PHOTO

After a six-month search process, Mayor Michelle Wu has announced that Michael Cox, formerly of the Boston Police Department and most recently head of the Ann Arbor Police Department, will take the helm as Boston’s next police commissioner.

A Boston native, 57-year-old Cox comes to the department with more than 30 years of experience in policing — most of which comes from time with the BPD. Cox joined the force in 1989 and rose through the ranks before leaving in 2019 to become chief in Ann Arbor Michigan.

“It has taken us a while to get here,” Wu said during her announcement at the Gertrude Howes Playground in Roxbury. “It has taken us a long time to get here as a city. To a day when a young boy growing up in Roxbury playing here in this very park, could rise up through the ranks in this community, gain important leadership experience in another city, then return home as commissioner of the Boston Police Department.”

On Wednesday, Cox reflected on his return to his home city, and his former employer.

“This is a homecoming for me,” Cox told reporters in a Zoom session before the official announcement.

His time as a Boston cop is marked by a 1995 incident during which he was badly beaten by his fellow officers who mistook Cox, who was working in plain clothes, for a gang member. After years of silence within the department, Cox brought a public civil lawsuit against BPD and received a judgment in his favor.

Despite the incident, Cox stayed with the Boston Police, and in 2013 became a deputy superintendent in the department – leading the Bureau of Professional Development.

“Since 1995 I have dedicated my life to making sure that both the Boston Police Department and policing, in general, has grown and learned from the experiences that I went through way back when to make sure that we have structures and mechanisms to never repeat,” Cox said Wednesday.

He has said that in the new role he hopes to bring more transparency and accountability to the department, in part by utilizing community policing to strengthen communication between the police and civilians.

“We’re going to try to get into all neighborhoods and when I say revitalize community policing, that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do. To get back out of the cars, to have more community forums where we’re getting feedback from the public on some of the historical stuff that’s happened in the past, [and] we can move forward together as a city, and as a department,” Cox said.

Newly-appointed Police Commissioner Michael Cox walks with Mayor Michelle Wu on Moreland Street in Roxbury. PHOTO: ISABEL LEON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

Additionally Cox said his other priorities include bringing more diversity to the force in part by marketing policing in Black and brown neighborhoods.

“There’s been so much negativity around policing the last few years. The attraction of the job is difficult and we need to make it more attractive to all walks of life. And that will go a long way to helping us help diversify,” he told reporters Wednesday.

During his tenure with the Ann Arbor Police, Cox made a centerpiece of his tenure increasing the transparency of the department through an effort to reinvigorate the city’s citizen crime-watch groups, and renew a relationship with the City Council.

However, his first year on the job proved rocky with Cox being placed on brief administrative leave for allegations of creating a “hostile work environment.” The accusations, since determined to be unfounded, stemmed from a dispute with an employee over the firing of a colleague.

Cox said he had to learn to communicate more effectively and blamed the misstep on his coming from a large, East Coast urban department to a smaller Midwestern one.

“I have learned from that quite a bit,” he said.

The top cop spot has been open for a prolonged period of time after the previous Walsh-appointed commissioner Dennis White was placed on leave two days after getting the job after allegations surfaced that White threatened to shoot his ex-wife. Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory Long has been acting commissioner since February 2021.

The seven-month search process to finally select Cox involved months of community feedback, interviews, and narrowing down candidates. The search committee, made up of five members and headed by former Superior Court justice Geraldine Hines, narrowed the decision to four finalists before making their decision.

“This city is ready for a leader of the Boston Police Department who will embrace reform and lead the department in a way that brings a fresh vision of public safety to Boston’s culturally, racially and economically diverse neighborhoods. I am confident that Michael Cox is the right person for the moment in our city’s history and that he will serve with the utmost integrity,” Hines said in a statement.

Jeffrey Lopes, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officials, said his organization is in support of Cox’s appointment.

“Michael Cox is a visionary and transformative leaders who has the experience, foresight and fortitude to create significant and sustainable portals of opportunity, equity and inclusivity at the Boston Police Department,” he said in a statement.

Cox is set to start the new job on August 15.