Once Wrongly Beaten, A Former Officer Will Now Lead Boston’s Police Department

Experiencing police brutality at the hands of his colleagues, former officer and new Boston police commissioner Michael Cox hopes his experiences will help to reshape department organization and police relationships with the community.

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Starting on Aug. 15, former Ann Arbor, Michigan chief of police, Michael Cox, will dawn the role of Boston’s newest police commissioner.

The homecoming is one full of emotions for Cox, 57. Serving as an undercover city police officer in 1995, he was mistaken for a shooting suspect and beaten by colleagues.

However, both he and Mayor Michelle Wu expressed hope Cox can use that experience towards helping the department to grow their structure and relationship with the community at a press conference Wednesday.

“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,” Wu said, stressing her and Cox’s values aligned well together. “We are tremendously excited to bring a leader of his experience and wisdom and background to Boston in this role.”

Cox will be Boston’s first incumbent police commissioner since June of 2021. Boston’s previous commissioner, Dennis White, had taken office in the beginning of that year, but was eventually placed on leave and fired after mishandlings of a domestic violence incident in 1999 became apparent.

Cox was one of four finalists for the position. He told reporters one of his earliest priorities is to reintroduce the department to the public, and listen to what they have to say.

“Having grown up here, having served in all of the roles within the department and elsewhere, [Cox] is uniquely positioned to build the public safety infrastructure that Boston deserves and continue building on the community trust and community policing that our city has lead on for decades.”

Cox, who is Black, first joined Boston’s police force in 1989. Responding to a shooting in Roxbury in plain clothes, Cox was pursuing the suspect over a fence. However, officers mistook him and beat him, leaving him with kidney damage and head injuries.

Cox would also face retaliation from officers in the days following the assault becoming public. After the civil rights violation, Cox would eventually see his lawsuit, along with $1.3 million, won against the department.

Recalling the beating Wednesday, Cox called it “unconstitutional policing.” “No different, probably, than instances that have happened throughout the country to Black and Brown people in general.”

Cox would later become superintendent overseeing the agency’s bureau of professional development, but he struggled to decide what to do following the beating in the midst of the department reportedly trying to cover up what happened.

However, he told reporters at the press conference he decided to stay, dedicating his life to making sure “that we have structures and mechanisms to never repeat that kind of of an incident.”

Understanding the difficulties officers face in their line of duty, Cox assured that he plans to act as both a motivator and leader for his new  colleagues in what he called an “exciting time.” “The officers need someone to help support them,” he said. “I’m going to be their biggest cheerleader.”

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“We need to understand the people that we police and the communities that we police. So we never have any unintended consequences.”

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Cox’s installation as police chief comes at a time when police distrust and violence have both seen sizeable jumps in the past few years. According to Mapping Police Violence, 286 people have been killed by police in 2022, with just four days in the year where a death hasn’t occurred.

Additionally, from 2013 to 2022, black people are 6.3 times more likely to be killed by a police officer in Massachusetts as opposed to white people.

Being able to relate to the violence and carelessness that can occur between police and citizens, Cox stressed the importance of understanding who they serve and how they can change that behavior in order to assure more peace and trust throughout the city.

“The police department needs to look like the communities which we serve… so we can serve you better. We’re going to re-emphasize and go back to some of our community policing basics that we’ve been very good at in the past and make sure we start to implement that again,” he said.

Closely learning cultures and ways of life is also a guideline Cox hopes to enforce. “We’re going to get to know the cultures of all the people that we serve to make sure we had, we never make a mistake and confuse someone’s culture from behavior that’s considered criminal in some way, shape or form.”

Advocates of Cox, like Ann Arbor’s Independent Community Police Oversight Commission vice-chair Frances Todoro-Hargreaves, believe it can be done, pointing to his prior work as proof.

“We’ve gone from not being able to view body camera footage to receiving body camera footage for every officer complaint. We’ve gone from not being able to see officers’ names to reviewing officers’ names [in the wake of incidents],” she told WBUR.