Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox placed on administrative leave

Saturday, February 8, 2020 - 5:23pm

Michael Cox, Ann Arbor’s chief of police, was placed on paid administrative leave.

Michael Cox, Ann Arbor’s chief of police, was placed on paid administrative leave. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

Michael Cox, police chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department, has been placed on paid administrative leave for two weeks, according to an email from City Administrator Howard sent on Friday afternoon.

The email was addressed to the mayor, members of City Council and Lisa Jackson, the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission chair.

“I am writing to inform you that I have placed Police Chief Cox on Administrative Leave due to a personnel matter,” Lazarus wrote. “Deputy Chief Forsberg will serve as the Acting Chief.

Deputy Chief Jason Forsberg will assume Cox’s duties while Cox is on leave. Forsberg was one of three finalists who interviewed for the police chief position over the summer.

In an interview with The Daily, Jackson said the commission was not told the specifics of the situation.

“I do not know as much as I would like to know,” Jackson said. “The commission is a little concerned that we were given the same amount of the information as the public was. We were not told why.”

However, Jackson added she has been told the leave is not due to Cox’s “personal misconduct” or an “allegation of him personally doing something improper.” When asked where she acquired this knowledge, Jackson said she was reassured by “people with more information” but declined to specify, as she said these individuals were likely not supposed to have told her.

Jackson said some members of City Council have also expressed their frustration to her about being “in the dark.”

City Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, shared in Jackson’s confusion. He said he understands the police chief will be on leave pending the investigation of a matter “we don’t know anything about yet.”

“There was no information given as to what it pertains to, only that there was a need to put the senior official on an administrative leave so an investigation can be conducted so we can have the best possible look at what happened,” Ramlawi said.

The Daily contacted Cox’s secretary Keri Hirschman, who did not reply prior to publication. 

Cox was sworn in as the city’s new police chief in September 2019 after being appointed unanimously to the position in July 2019 by City Council. Cox’s salary starts at $160,000 a year. 

Prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Cox served in the Boston Police Department for 30 years, including as a bureau chief for the Boston Police Academy from 2018 until his leave. 

According to Jackson, Lazarus dealt exclusively with Cox’s leave. Lazarus had recommended Cox for the position in June over two other candidates vying for the role.

She said she found out about the leave Friday afternoon after being copied on an email from Lazarus to City Council members. Lazarus did not respond to request for comment prior to publication.

Ramlawi, as one of the liaisons to the ICPOC alongside Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, said he received a phone call from Lazarus informing him of Cox’s leave before the email was sent. City Council established the ICPOC in 2018 following years of advocacy by local activists. 

Lumm did not reply to request for comment by time of publication. 

Ramlawi said he is unsure why Cox’s leave will last two weeks. 

“I’m not sure what made the city administrator believe it would just take two weeks, or whether they might come back and ask for more time after that,” Ramlawi said. “I would only be guessing.”

Jackson said the fact that the leave has a specified time frame “strikes a lot of people as strange.”

“If there is an investigation we want to know into what,” Jackson said. “If there is an investigation we’d like to know on what evidence that investigation is being conducted. Those are things we don’t have answers to now, and those are things we would like and we would like that information to be made public.”

Despite the ICPOC receiving minimal information about Cox’s leave, while he was being considered for the position in March, Cox emphasized transparency, expressing that he believes a police oversight commission had an important role to play in the community, bridging the gap between law enforcement and the public.

“I think in policing we don’t always educate the public or educate folks on what we do or how we do it, and the oversight commission is just an opportunity for that education process to exist in a more transparent way,” Cox said. 

Forsberg has also commended the commission as an important transparency and accountability tool.

“I think the policing commission is a great opportunity to begin bridging that gap,” Forsberg said. “We really only do begin building trust by having transparency — having accountability within the ranks. But we do a lot of great work right now that, I feel like, people just don’t know about.”

In 1995, Cox was beaten by other police officers while undercover. According to Cox in a previous interview with The Daily, his experience with police brutality and others in which he said he has been mistaken as the suspect rather than the officer have informed his belief in fostering trust between law enforcement and the community. 

“Interacting with the public in ways that don’t have to do with normal police work is important and builds trust,” Cox said. “It helps us figure out what the community wants. It helps the officers get to know the community, and the community gets to know the officers.” 

Though Ramlawi said he would like more information, he said he understands not everyone can know the details because there can’t be “five different bosses.” He urged patience as the investigation plays out.

“We need to have trust in a system that has checks and balances hopefully,” Ramlawi said. “You want due process. All too often, we just jump to conclusions… It’s important to take our time and just allow the process to work.”

Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at cmhao@umich.edu.

This is a developing story. Check back at michigandaily.com for more updates.