Michael Cox – Who is Boston’s Newest Top Cop?

Yesterday morning, at around 11:30 hours, Chief Michael Cox of the Ann Arbor Police Department was announced as the 44th Police Commissioner for the Boston Police Department by Mayor Michelle Wu at Howes Playground in Roxbury. The new Commissioner, who is slated to take over for Acting Commissioner and Superintendent-in-Chief Gregory P. Long, is a Roxbury native and 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department. He will begin serving in his new role on August 15, 2022.

A five-member committee recommended Chief Cox to the Mayor after a lengthy search which included a public engagement process that began with two public listening sessions. Additionally members met with community stakeholders including the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers (MAMLEO), Latino Law Enforcement Group of Boston (LLEGO), leadership of the Boston Police Superior Officers Federation and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society. The appointment of the Police Commissioner is an important and serious choice for Boston’s Police Department, especially at such a critical time in police reform and stability for the city.

At a press conference held just blocks away from where Chief Cox grew up in Roxbury, Mayor Wu and members from the Committee spoke about why they chose him for this role. “Having grown up here, having served in many roles within the Boston Police Department and roles elsewhere, Chief Cox is uniquely positioned to build the public safety infrastructure that Boston deserves,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “He will continue building on the community trust and community policing that our city has led on for decades.”

But the question still remained, who is Michael Cox and what does this mean for the Boston Police Department and the City as a whole…

Michael Cox was born in Boston on June 17, 1965, and raised on Winthrop Street in Roxbury, before his family moved to Dorchester. He was the youngest of six children with three sisters, Cora, Lillian and Barbara, and two brothers, David and Ricky. His Parents, Bertha and David originally from Tennessee, had lived in Boston for about a decade when he was born. In the early 70s, during the infamous Boston desegregation busing crisis, the family decided to send him to Catholic School at Mary of the Assumption in Brookline.

Throughout the 60s and 70s the family survived a wave of violence that encompassed the Roxbury area, with murders, rapes, and violent crime on the rise. In response, the city built a new police station and court house just blocks away from the family’s residence, leading to a slowdown at the time. This was where Micheal Cox began to show interest in law enforcement. In the book, The Fence, he shared his desire to become an Officer himself, daydreaming about the idea almost constantly, but apprehensive on if he should. “I didn’t really think I could be a police officer for some reason. I didn’t know if I was good enough.”

As he continued through the grades, he eventually found himself on a scholarship to the prestigious Milton Academy. During his time at Milton Academy, he struggled to keep up with his work with an overwhelming commute, sports commitments and others responsibilities, and left after only one year. The next year he went to boarding school at the Wooster School in Danbury CT, again on a full scholarship. This time, he lived on campus, allowing him to focus on his studies. During his time in Connecticut, he was well liked and befriended many of the students. One of the few other black students at the time was a few years ahead of him, a girl who seemed to like music more than studying, her name was Tracy Chapman.

Senior year, Michael Cox played as Co-Captain for the school’s basketball team, where he was named MVP. In the fall of 1984, Michael Cox began his freshman year at Providence College where he spent three years. For his last year of college, he traveled to Georgia where he attended Morehouse College, an all black male school in Atlanta. He returned north after graduating and eventually joined the Boston Police Department in 1989 as a patrol officer assigned to District B-3, Mattapan.

Michael Cox worked in Mattapan up until he was selected in the 1990s to join the City-wide Anti-Gang Violence Unit, what is now referred to as the Youth Violence Strike Force. One night while on duty in plain clothes, he was “mistaken” as a shooter by other officers who were all in pursuit of suspects after a Homicide near a popular night club, or as he self described it, “a victim of unconstitutional policing”. Michael Cox had begun to scale a fence following behind one of the suspects when police grabbed and beat him. When the officers realized their mistake, they ran. Instead of calling for help, they turned their backs on their fellow officer and left him there to die. Due to the severity of his injuries, Cox was out of work for roughly half a year as he recovered. No one came forward or was found guilty for beating; however he eventually was able to sue the Department and identify some of the officers involved.

When asked about the infamous incident yesterday at the press conference, he said, “I am a victim of that, but that’s not who I am. After this incident I had a choice to quit, leave, or stay. I stayed because I believe in community policing… me leaving was not going to help… my goal was to learn and grow and be a model for the police department to make sure that kind of incident happens again.”

In the spirit of service and not allowing that tragedy to stop him, Michael Cox went on to be promoted to Sergeant in 1995 and then Sergeant Detective where he worked in Internal Affairs, Recruit Investigations, Audit & Review before joining the Intelligence Unit. During his assignment to Intelligence, he performed Dignitary Protection duties, served as the liaison to the U.S. Secret Service, and even supervised the the Joint Terrorist Task Force. 

Throughout the rest of his career, Chief Cox would continue his education, a proud graduate of the FBI National Academy and Police Executive Research Forum. In addition to his degree from Providence College in Business Management, he also obtained a Masters in Criminal Justice from Curry College as well as a MBA from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. 

After numerous years of service, Michael Cox was promoted to the rank of Deputy Superintendent where he worked in numerous capacities including Internal Affairs as the Assistant Bureau Chief of Professional Standards, Zone Commander of Area E, Commander of the Operations Division and the Commander of the Forensic Division and Assistant Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Investigative Services. In 2018, former Commissioner William Gross promoted Deputy Cox to the Role of Bureau Chief and Superintendent of the Bureau of Professional Development, overseeing the Boston Police Academy, the Firearms Training Unit, the Police Cadet Unit, Recruit training and in-service training for all sworn Boston Police personnel. 

Approximately a year later, Superintendent Cox announced he would be retiring from the Boston Police Department in order to take the position of Chief of Police in Ann Arbor Michigan. After being unanimously confirmed by city council earlier in July, Chief Cox was sworn in surrounded by his family and loved ones. After the ceremony, he praised the lengthy application process during his speech. “The thoroughness of that process … every place should be involved like that. Because I got to meet the community, I got to meet city council members, I got to meet people from every part of the city before I ever got here. And that’s important. Because that told me quite a bit about who this city is, what this city is, what’s important and who you all are.”

However, Michael Cox has not completely avoided scandal. In early February 2020, less than six months after taking the position as Chief, he was placed on paid administrative leave over allegations that he created a hostile work environment. He was also accused of insubordination and of influencing investigations into officers improperly voiding parking tickets. After a lengthy external review Chief Cox was reinstated under the condition that he would use more direct and positive contact with other officers. 

When asked about it at the press conference early today he explained, “So I came from a big department to a very small department, from the east coast to the midwest… and the reality is sometimes people can be offended by people just because they are different.” He went on to elaborate, “Anyone who knows me knows I’m a fairly thoughtful person… intimidation is not me… that was a learning experience for me… the midwest is not the east coast and I made some mistakes I owned up to them and I learned from that… there was no atmosphere of hostility, just a misinterpretation and a young police chief making some mistakes.”

Mayor Wu also defended Chief Cox saying, “I have reviewed every document that has existed in both Boston and Ann Arbor… I personally spoke with their Mayor and Town Administrator and have heard nothing but praise and regret that he might leave…[they told me] Chief Cox has been the consummate professional, so warm and welcoming to the entire community… He is a leader of great integrity.

When the appointment was announced this morning, Cox gave a heartwarming and personal speech saying, “I consider this a homecoming, I wish my mother was here to see it… I grew up right down the street from this park…everyone deserves to enjoy a park without crime.” He went on to say, “Her [Mayor Wu’s] vision for the city is how I see my vision for the police department, diversity, equity and inclusion… Community policing basics will be implemented again… the reality is we need each other… officers need to engage residents. Chief Cox also told the press pool, “I took on public service because I wanted to help the public and give back to the communities in which I lived.”

After the announcement, Chief Cox answered a handful of questions, one focused on what he plans to do in terms of improving department accountability and transparency. He told the reporters, “Our communication needs to be better in a lot of ways… give me a second to get there and to review some of this stuff because I don’t want to criticize some people who are doing great work just because of my ignorance, I want to be slow to critique and fast to learn before I make any comments. He defended his soon to be rank and file wholeheartedly but also left room for improvement, “Officers work hard, this is a hard job at any level and the reality is most people don’t understand some of the aspects of policing… but also the reality is that police sometimes don’t understand issues of communities… Those two need to match up a lot better and we need to learn from one another so we can be way more responsive…so we are never over policing or under policing because of these misunderstandings… it’s kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy.”

The main message that Chief Cox had for the rank and file was simple, “I believe in policing… I know the men and women in our department are truly gifted… we’re going to support you to death and make sure that you have all the tools you need at your disposal… but we’re also going to hold you accountable.”