Mayor Wu’s flurry of top cabinet appointments this summer brings in homegrown talent to lead the city’s three biggest departments— schools, fire, and police. The BPS superintendent, Mary Skipper, is a Somerville native who has lived in Dorchester for years and once led Dot’s Tech Boston Academy. The new fire commissioner, Paul F. Burke, is a 30-plus year BFD veteran who grew up in Roslindale.Michael Cox, the newly chosen police commissioner, grew up in Roxbury and lived in Ashmont/Adams for much of his career on the BPD.
It’s noteworthy, though, that Wu’s thorough, deliberative search for strong leadership in what amounts to the city’s “big three” has led her to choose veteran leaders with deep roots in Boston neighborhoods. How that must confound the crazy caucus that maligns the mayor at every turn as a blow-in from Chicago.
Wu’s instincts in all three instances read as spot-on from this vantage point. The latest choice—Police Commissioner Cox— melds the pressing mandate for Black leadership of the police department with an authentic, seasoned BPD pedigree, one that includes challenging the systemic racism of the force itself from within.
And yet, despite his disrupter bona fides, Cox is hardly a “defund” radical. Far from it. His perspective seems to align well with that of Wu, who prudently resisted efforts by some hard-left councillors to make deeper cuts to police funding in this year’s budget.
When reporters pressed him on the question of how American metro police forces should proceed on funding and recruitment, Cox answered candidly: “I struggle to understand that… So, at a time when the public, rightly so, expects a higher expectation as far as our service that we provide, our level of professionalism, at the exact same time people are asking for us to have less resources. And the two just didn’t match up.”
Cox has been running the Ann Arbor, Michigan, police force for the last few years and showed good judgment in requesting time to get up to speed before commenting in more granular fashion on his checklist for the massive challenge presented by his new job in Boston. It’s a wise path. The landscape has shifted in significant ways since he headed west in 2019, particularly in the city’s political dynamics. But some fundamental problems persist, and Cox is well equipped to confront them.
Boston is now bucking the troubling trend of rising crime rates that is a problem in most big cities in America. Statistics released weekly by Boston Police have shown that shootings and murders are lower than last year— and well below the five-year average. Most “part one” crimes in Dorchester and Mattapan have been tracking downward for a few years now and the latest stats show no sign of a major shift.
Still, the menace of violence on our streets and subway cars is a constant concern. Cox, once fully operational, will have a full plate. But his mix of first-hand experience as both a street cop, superior officer, and a reformer from within makes him an exceptional choice to take watch over Boston’s police force at this crucial moment.