Ann Arbor sounds off on Boston’s new police commissioner


When Boston swears in its new Police Commissioner next month, the city will also send a powerful message about racism and corruption.In 1995, Michael Cox was beaten by fellow Boston police officers who then covered it up.But, to learn what kind of Commissioner Cox will be in Boston, 5 Investigates traveled hundreds of miles away to Ann Arbor, Michigan, another place where he was tested.Ann Arbor is a progressive university town, but when Cox took over as chief of police there in 2019, he learned that the small city is not immune from the problems between the police and the community facing so many departments.After two days on the ground in Ann Arbor, we learned there was a lot of hope when Cox arrived and a lot of mixed emotions with his departure. “I said to him on my, I think my first meeting of him, I said, ‘Now you don’t know me, but you’re going to have to watch your back because it’s not going to be easy here,’” said Shirley Beckley, who knows Ann Arbor. At 80 years old, the community activist has spent most of her life here, and she knew all too well that Cox would have an uphill battle. We asked her what she thought were the biggest challenges that Chief Cox faced in Ann Arbor. “I think dealing with the police union and his staff,” she said. “He was willing to do what the community wanted, what some of the city council wanted, but he didn’t have the support he needed.”Cox walked into a community still dealing with the aftermath of a deadly police shooting. In 2014, an officer shot and killed Aura Rosser during a domestic call. The 40-year-old black woman had a knife.“Our police force is very, very white, and so I think there was some hope that by having a black chief in, we would see some change or have more access to have input on policing,” said Dr. Lisa Jackson, who helped bring Michael Cox to Ann Arbor.As the chair of Ann Arbor’s independent police oversight commission, Jackson hoped Cox would bring a new approach to policing.“I think he brought this idea that maybe community policing could be achieved, whatever community policing means,” Jackson said. “I don’t know that he achieved that while he was here, but I think he was a part of that conversation.”Not long after he took the job of chief of police in Ann Arbor, Cox gave an interview to the local cable television access channel. “Hopefully I’ll be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk,” he said.Jackson gave him credit for his efforts but added that for many communities in the city, his vision wasn’t fully realized.“I think he did make an effort to be available to people,” Jackson said. “But I don’t know if we saw policing change from the top down in terms of its relationship with communities of color, the Asian community, black community, Latino community. I don’t think we saw a shift in that,” Jackson said. Ann Arbor’s population is about the size of Cambridge – a fraction of Boston’s. It’s 70% white compared to 48% in Boston. In both cities, about a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line.In both cities, Beckley said Cox found an undercurrent of racism that impacted his career. “It didn’t work because they didn’t let him do what he what he was willing,” she said. “He never kept his door shut. He always was willing to meet. But he got a lot of flak for trying to do what we, the community, thought needed to be done to bridge that gap between the community and the police.As chief in Ann Arbor, Cox was placed on paid leave early in his tenure, accused of creating a hostile work environment over a parking ticket investigation. But the city leaders we talked to said that was an overreaction on the city administrator’s part. In fact, they praised Cox for his demeanor during that period.And for all his challenges, Cox did have success building bridges. He met personally with residents, civic association leaders and city councilors.“I felt that he was a good, honest, public figure and he was very visible in the community,” City Councilor Jeff Hayner said. “I never felt that he had any difficulty being a leader.”As for returning to the force where he personally faced police brutality, people here said Cox is ready.“I think he’s a cop’s cop and that he thinks policing is an honorable profession and he thinks most police officers are in it for the right reasons,” Jackson said. “But I don’t think that he has much tolerance for cops who are not following policy, for cops who are brutalizing the public, for cops who are lying.”Beckley offered a final piece of advice:“I certainly hope that the mayor of Boston will make sure he has some support so he can do what I think he’s capable of doing.”

When Boston swears in its new Police Commissioner next month, the city will also send a powerful message about racism and corruption.

In 1995, Michael Cox was beaten by fellow Boston police officers who then covered it up.

But, to learn what kind of Commissioner Cox will be in Boston, 5 Investigates traveled hundreds of miles away to Ann Arbor, Michigan, another place where he was tested.

Ann Arbor is a progressive university town, but when Cox took over as chief of police there in 2019, he learned that the small city is not immune from the problems between the police and the community facing so many departments.

After two days on the ground in Ann Arbor, we learned there was a lot of hope when Cox arrived and a lot of mixed emotions with his departure.

“I said to him on my, I think my first meeting of him, I said, ‘Now you don’t know me, but you’re going to have to watch your back because it’s not going to be easy here,’” said Shirley Beckley, who knows Ann Arbor.

At 80 years old, the community activist has spent most of her life here, and she knew all too well that Cox would have an uphill battle. We asked her what she thought were the biggest challenges that Chief Cox faced in Ann Arbor.

“I think dealing with the police union and his staff,” she said. “He was willing to do what the community wanted, what some of the city council wanted, but he didn’t have the support he needed.”

Cox walked into a community still dealing with the aftermath of a deadly police shooting. In 2014, an officer shot and killed Aura Rosser during a domestic call. The 40-year-old black woman had a knife.

“Our police force is very, very white, and so I think there was some hope that by having a black chief in, we would see some change or have more access to have input on policing,” said Dr. Lisa Jackson, who helped bring Michael Cox to Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor sounds off on Boston’s new police commissioner

As the chair of Ann Arbor’s independent police oversight commission, Jackson hoped Cox would bring a new approach to policing.

“I think he brought this idea that maybe community policing could be achieved, whatever community policing means,” Jackson said. “I don’t know that he achieved that while he was here, but I think he was a part of that conversation.”

Not long after he took the job of chief of police in Ann Arbor, Cox gave an interview to the local cable television access channel.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk,” he said.

Jackson gave him credit for his efforts but added that for many communities in the city, his vision wasn’t fully realized.

“I think he did make an effort to be available to people,” Jackson said. “But I don’t know if we saw policing change from the top down in terms of its relationship with communities of color, the Asian community, black community, Latino community. I don’t think we saw a shift in that,” Jackson said.

Ann Arbor’s population is about the size of Cambridge – a fraction of Boston’s. It’s 70% white compared to 48% in Boston. In both cities, about a fifth of the population lives below the poverty line.

Ann Arbor sounds off on Boston’s new police commissioner

WCVB

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

In both cities, Beckley said Cox found an undercurrent of racism that impacted his career.

“It didn’t work because they didn’t let him do what he what he was willing,” she said. “He never kept his door shut. He always was willing to meet. But he got a lot of flak for trying to do what we, the community, thought needed to be done to bridge that gap between the community and the police.

As chief in Ann Arbor, Cox was placed on paid leave early in his tenure, accused of creating a hostile work environment over a parking ticket investigation. But the city leaders we talked to said that was an overreaction on the city administrator’s part. In fact, they praised Cox for his demeanor during that period.

And for all his challenges, Cox did have success building bridges. He met personally with residents, civic association leaders and city councilors.

“I felt that he was a good, honest, public figure and he was very visible in the community,” City Councilor Jeff Hayner said.I never felt that he had any difficulty being a leader.”

As for returning to the force where he personally faced police brutality, people here said Cox is ready.

“I think he’s a cop’s cop and that he thinks policing is an honorable profession and he thinks most police officers are in it for the right reasons,” Jackson said. “But I don’t think that he has much tolerance for cops who are not following policy, for cops who are brutalizing the public, for cops who are lying.”

Beckley offered a final piece of advice:

“I certainly hope that the mayor of Boston will make sure he has some support so he can do what I think he’s capable of doing.”



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