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100 days in as police commissioner, Cox is starting slow — and that’s exactly how he likes it

He has made it clear he will listen before he acts.

Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

As Michael Cox entered the atrium of the Salvation Army Kroc Center last week for the Boston Police Department’s Thanksgiving senior dinner, he quickly found himself the center of a swirl of people vying for their first look at the new commissioner.

Shirley Smith, 79, wasted no time breaking through the crowd to ask for a photo. But before she could smile for the camera, Cox caught her pleasantly by surprise with his questions: what was her name, where was she from, how were things going in her neighborhood?

“I can’t remember the last time a commissioner has come to one of these dinners,” Smith said. “It’s certainly been a few years . . . so it’s good to have him here.”

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As Cox marked his first 100 days in office Thursday, he has made good on his promise to model community policing by inviting conversation and meeting residents where they are: at home, in the park, or around the dinner table.

For everything else, he is still laying out his blueprint, adopting a measured style even as community leaders call for an immediate plan to address a recent flare-up in violence.

Earlier this week, for instance, Pastor Franklin Hobbs pressed the commissioner during an interview with Boston Praise Radio on his plan to tackle neighborhood violence, one month after faith leaders and city officials first pledged to draft solutions.

“This spike that we’ve been experiencing here in Boston has many people on edge and scared,” Hobbs said, before asking the question on many community members’ minds: “What is the strategic plan that Boston Police Department has to stop the violence?”

The City Council also announced Wednesday that it will hold a hearing in early December to assess the recent spate of violence, including the shootings of young people.

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In an interview with the Globe, Cox made his priority clear. He is committed to a slow and steady approach that differs from that of his predecessors, and even from other leaders in city government. Mayor Michelle Wu took the helm with an action-packed to-do list. But Cox’s attitude reflects a firm belief that he wants to listen before he acts.

“We’re not going back to the days where the police just come in and just start doing what they think is best without input from the public,” he said. “We always have a plan, that’s not the issue. But we need to actually hear from the people who live here, so we can formulate a plan that’s going to address all those concerns.”

Already, he said, he has reworked weekly meetings with the commanding officers of each district to not only focus on reviewing crime from recent days, but to predict upcoming trends and brainstorm a preventative approach for the days ahead.

“Where I appreciate Commissioner Cox is that he didn’t come in with a set agenda and he didn’t come in with a mentality of, ‘I am shaking this thing up,’ ” said Izzy Marrero, chair of the Latino Law Enforcement Group of Boston, which represents the interests of the city’s Latin American officers.

“He came here [to meet LLEGO] and his first thing he said to a group of us was, ‘Hey, I need to reeducate myself. I need to listen. I need to hear from everybody, what changes they would like to see. And if those visions align with mine, then I know I can move forward,’ ” Marrero recalled, adding that as a representative of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, he was surprised when he saw Cox not only out in the community with officers of color, but also at a union meeting.

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“It’s not a common occurrence . . . but he came and he heard us,” Marrero said. “So I’m very hopeful because I think these past three months he’s really been doing his homework.”

Cox, the first appointed commissioner in more than 18 months, was tapped to head a department repeatedly mired in scandal, after the previous department leader was fired when allegations of domestic violence came to light. The job requires juggling the interests of the department’s 2,000 uniformed officers — represented by some of the city’s most powerful unions — with those of a community that has vociferously clamored for reform since the 2020 police murder of George Floyd prompted a nationwide reexamination of law enforcement.

“It’s about the community first. Not just rhetoric around how important the community is, but actually putting that into practice is the most crucial thing you do,” said Edward Davis, who served as Boston police commissioner from 2006 to 2013 and vividly remembered his first 100 days on the job.

Davis said Cox will have to pair community engagement with strong relationships with city officials, most notably the mayor, as well as with other officers in the department, from captains and lieutenants to the rank-and-file. To strike the right balance, Davis said, Cox must pitch his vision for policing not only to residents, but also the officers responsible for putting the plan in place.

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“Mandates don’t work,” Davis said. “It has to be their hearts, and then their minds.”

Wu applauded Cox for his ability to both advocate for the needs of the department and establish himself as a familiar face in the community. His partnership in delivering services to the city’s homeless and those struggling with substance use on Mass. and Cass, she said, has been indispensable.

“It is a really clear, collaborative effort, and I think that’s a hallmark of his leadership,” she said.

Cox is no stranger to the inner workings of the department. He served for three decades, starting as an officer in the Dorchester/Mattapan area and climbing the ranks to head the bureau of professional development, before he left three years ago to serve as police chief in Ann Arbor, Mich. His commitment to fair and empathetic policing is also informed by personal experience; Cox successfully sued the Boston Police Department after he was mistaken for a murder suspect and beaten by fellow officers in 1995.

But he could find himself confronting considerable policy change under reform proposals issued by Wu.

His stance on whether civilians should work construction details, for example, will prove a crucial early test of his diplomacy. The possibility of redirecting the longtime practice of police duty — where officers earn additional pay by watching street construction sites, for example — to civilians to help create jobs for Boston residents is a central issue in union contract negotiations, and one Wu vowed to see through during her mayoral campaign as part of her strategy for police reform.

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Cox declined to comment on his position on the issue Tuesday, saying only that it is not currently “a public safety priority.”

Another big question for Cox will be whether he makes changes to the command staff, the department superintendents who directly report to, and often closely advise, the commissioner.

“It takes a second to realize that certain people may be better suited in another role, but it won’t be much longer before we do make some changes to our structure,” he said. “But the total focus of it all is to make sure we have a team of people that are ready, willing, and able to implement the plans we have in place around community-oriented policing.”

As Cox unveils his game plan one move at a time, those who have watched him closely over the past three months appear optimistic.

“Obviously he hasn’t laid out his entire agenda . . . [but] he’s made it clear that he wants to make sure everyone is equally represented and that under his tenure the department is working to serve everyone,” said Jeff Lopes, president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers.

“So for us, we’re just eager to see what his plan is,” Lopes added, “and how we can be a partner to him on equity issues going forward.”


Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.