Michael Cox, who grew up in Roxbury, was sworn in as Boston’s 44th police commissioner Monday, completing a remarkable return to a department whose strengths and weaknesses he understands from deep and sometimes painful personal experience.
In 1995, as a Black Boston Police officer working in plainclothes, Cox was beaten and then abandoned by fellow officers who initially mistook him for a suspect. The attack and its aftermath inspired the 2009 book “The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston’s Racial Divide,” by former Boston Globe reporter Dick Lehr.
In his remarks Monday, Cox — who previously served as the chief of police in Ann Arbor, Michigan — said the episode “doesn’t define me.” But he also suggested it’s had a profound impact on his approach to law enforcement.
“I’ve worked to change policing since that incident occurred, and I will continue to do all I can to make sure that no Black or brown person — or any individual, no matter what their gender identity or race — is the victim of any kind of unconstitutional policing,” Cox said. “I unfortunately have a unique perspective on this, but that perspective makes me more committed in this area.
“My story’s not special,” Cox, who is 57, added. “The reality is, we’re all resilient. In some way, shape or form, every day, you all, people in this city, people in this state, fight their own battles and persevere. And they usually do it not only through inner strength, but [with the] support of others.
“I’m here to say that as people struggle and have battles throughout this city … the Boston police department is going to be here to support them in any way possible.”
The vision for the BPD Cox outlined hinges on a radical re-engagement between police and the public. It is, he believes, a process in which both sides have a pivotal role to play.
“We promise that we’re going to try to be truly equitable and inclusive,” Cox said. “We’ll work to ensure that the department looks like the communities we serve, so we can always police in a community-friendly way.
“I ask everyone who loves this city to please join in helping move the Boston Police Department forward,” Cox added. “Whether you’re an academic institution, law-enforcement agency, the public — we ask you to join us. Give us feedback on how we can be better, and work with us as we try to … face the challenges that the city has, and actually serve you the way you need to be served.”
Then, just before his speech ended, Cox urged the public to bolster the morale of BPD personnel when they encounter them throughout the city.
“I’m sure I will see you out in the streets, and feel free to say hello to me — but more importantly, say hello to our officers,” he said. “They need that hello.”
After the ceremony, as he briefly met the press along with Mayor Michelle Wu, Cox expanded on that request.
“We have to earn their [the public’s] trust, and so we’re going to go about doing that,” he said. “But along the way, we also have to educate folks that we’re humans. And … just like any place, if you want someone to get better, you have to support them.
“We’re in a pile-on society where something bad happens someplace else in the country, and then we’re talking about the officers here like they did it,” Cox added. “They didn’t do it. And the fact that they served the best that they can, and [then] take the blame for almost everything that happens anywhere — that’s tough. That’s tough for me, never mind for them.”
"I'm sure I will see you out in the streets, and feel free to say hello to me — but more importantly, say hello to our officers. They need that hello."-Michael Cox, Boston Police commissioner
Cox’s hiring is one of the most important decisions made to date by Mayor Michelle Wu, who was a far more vocal proponent of police reform during last year’s campaign then her opponent, former Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi George.
Cox’s predecessor, Dennis White, was appointed by former Mayor Marty Walsh in January 2021, shortly before Walsh left to become labor secretary in the Biden Administration. White was placed on administrative leave by Walsh within days after the Boston Globe discovered that White had been accused of domestic violence in 1999.
White was eventually fired by Acting Boston Mayor Kim Janey in June 2021. He is now suing Janey and the city.
The BPD has also faced sharp scrutiny over the case of Patrick Rose, a former BPD officer and union president who recently pleaded guilty to multiple charges of child rape and sexual assault. Despite an internal investigation in 1995 that found Rose had sexually assaulted a minor, he remained on the force for years for reasons that remain unclear.
As chief in Ann Arbor, Cox was accused of creating a hostile work environment during an investigation of that department’s voiding of parking tickets. Wu and Cox have previously said Cox was exonerated in a subsequent investigation.
On Monday, Wu reiterated her belief that Cox is the perfect person to helm the BPD, the nation’s oldest police department, at this moment in history.
When she interviewed Cox for the commissioner’s job, Wu said, “Immediately, I had a feeling settle in my chest that we might have done the impossible. Because I had been told that it would be impossible to find someone who could embody all the qualities that Boston was looking for in our police commissioner in this moment.”