Mayor Michelle Wu has made her pick for police commissioner: Michael Cox, a longtime veteran of the department who rose up through it after fellow officers confused him with a suspect and beat him in the 1990s.
BOSTON, MA – July 13: Michael Cox walks with Mayor Michelle Wu. Cox was named new Boston Police Commissioner by Wu at Gertrude Howes Playground in Roxbury on July 13, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Cox, 57, has been the police chief in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the past few years, but he’s returning to his hometown of Boston to start as the city’s new top cop on Aug. 15 — more than a year and a half after the last time the department had an on-the-job police commissioner.
“It’s time for us to get back out there and reintroduce ourselves to the public,” Cox said, talking to reporters on Wednesday morning about his priorities that heavily included improving community policing. “We get back out of the cars, to have more community forums, where we’re getting feedback from the public. You know, own some of the historical stuff that’s happened in the past so we can move forward together as a city, as a department.”
Cox, who will be the third Black commissioner in Boston history and the third in a row, has a well-known personal story includes some of that “historical stuff” — when he, as a gang-unit plainclothes officer in 1995 joined in a chase for an armed suspect in Mattapan, was badly beaten by other cops who mistook him for the suspect. He was left with head and kidney injuries, and ultimately successfully sued the department.
Cox acknowledged the experience as a formative one, but also repeatedly characterized it as “a long time ago.”
“Part of my healing process was, you know, what do I want to do with my life?” he said. “How do I want to give back? Do I want to walk away from a job that prior to that incident that I loved, and still had 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 in some way, shape, or form? And I thought, ‘You know what, I’m not going anywhere.’”
Cox rose to the rank of superintendent, running at various times internal affairs, investigative units and the police academy. He departed for the top job in Ann Arbor — which didn’t go smoothly right off the bat, as he was put on leave and accused of creating a hostile work environment in the first year.
He returned a few weeks later under the conditions that he “apologize for any misunderstandings and poor communication” with officers, according to the local paper, which reported a memo from the city manager that said he would “benefit from more direct and positive contact with the sworn officers.”
Cox, asked about the situation, chalked it up to cultural differences between a big East Coast metro department and that of a smaller midwestern city, saying the way he talked to people was “misinterpreted.”
“The experiences that I brought with me, it’s within itself sometimes it’s intimidating to other officers that don’t have that,” he said.
Asked about the “defund the police” movement and the calls for police departments to improve while having their budgets cut, he said, “The two just didn’t match up.”
“At a time when the public rightly so expects a higher expectation as far as our service that we provide, a level of professionalism — at the exact same time that people were of course asking for us to have less resources,” he said.
“This is a very, very tough job in this changing, dynamic world we live in,” Cox said.
Wu, asked when she knew she was going to choose Cox, said, “As soon as we started chatting, I knew that he was the one.”