Police Oversight Commission, Ann Arbor community discuss Police Chief Michael Cox

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - 9:32pm

David Santacroce, UM Law Professor and member of the Independent Community Police Overisght Commission, participates in the Commissions meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.

David Santacroce, UM Law Professor and member of the Independent Community Police Overisght Commission, participates in the Commissions meeting Tuesday night at City Hall. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

After the City of Ann Arbor placed Police Chief Michael Cox on administrative leave earlier this month, the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission hosted a community forum to discuss Cox’s leave. Approximately 50 community members and city leaders attended the meeting on Tuesday night in Ann Arbor City Hall. 

Commission Chair Lisa Jackson began the meeting with a statement about the situation, noting the lack of public information. She confirmed Cox was not placed on leave as a result of any sexual harassment-related claim. Jackson said the investigation should conclude Thursday and the ICPOC will hold a special committee meeting sometime at the end of the week to update the public and allow for comments and questions. 

Many community members commented on the damage done to Cox’s public image by being placed on leave. Some proactively called for public apologies from members of City Council and Mayor Christopher Taylor, asking about how damages could be repaid.

Attendees had many questions about the investigation into Cox by a private law firm and who would receive their report. Jackson also commented on the lack of a Human Resources Director, who would normally be involved in the process. Commission members pointed out there is little precedent and they are not entirely sure what will happen. 

The discussion quickly moved to City Administrator Howard Lazarus, who City Council voted to remove Tuesday night. Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, and Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, sponsored the resolution to separate with Lazarus, which includes a severance of one year’s salary, amounting to $223,600, and an additional $1,000. Lumm is part of the ICPOC and Eaton was present for the majority of the meeting. 

After the announcement about the resolution to remove Lazarus, many community members grew frustrated and began shouting at Lumm. She explained his possible removal was unrelated to the situation with Cox. 

“The separation agreement is not in the least related,” Lumm said. “The timing, of course, is furious, but coincidental. Your assumption the two are related is understandable, but they are not related. This was discussed with Lazarus in various settings, well in advance of our email (announcing it).”

Many commission members and attendees expressed anger with the city government at all levels and especially with City Council. They said Cox’s placement on leave was a demonstration of the inefficacy of Ann Arbor’s government and the community’s underlying racial tensions. 

Jackson commented on how the situation reflects on Ann Arbor, regardless of the final outcome for Cox and Howard Lazarus. 

“I have no knowledge of what happened; I don’t,” Jackson said. “But what I do know is that it is not a good look for the city of Ann Arbor. It doesn’t speak well for us; it doesn’t speak well for the process.” 

Councilmember Eaton spoke to the commission, explaining the City Council has no information about Cox. He also said he thinks the public should be given more information and that City Council would investigate how the current situation evolved. Eaton said City Council did not know of any issues with Cox and that, if he is reinstated, they will look into repairing the harm that was done. 

After Lumm and Eaton left for the City Council meeting, the commission and community members expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to have ICPOC meet and hear community input. 

Ann Arbor resident Lori Saginaw, who has been involved in previous police reform efforts in the city, spoke about the importance of the community being involved in ICPOC meetings and how activism can affect the city government. 

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am that all of you are doing what you are doing,” Saginaw said. “There were so many times I was the only person sitting here during these meetings, in contrast, to tonight when you can know this community cares and wants to be a part of this work. So, talk about activism, here it is. We are going to continue to talk (about these issues).”

The meeting ended with calls for transparency regarding both Cox and Lazarus, as well as demands for the release of data about policing in Ann Arbor. 

Reporter Emma Ruberg can be reached at eruberg@umich.edu.