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Chief Michael Cox

Chain of Command II

The firing of city administrator Howard Lazarus was timely for police chief Mike Cox.

by James Leonard

From the May, 2020 issue

A West Point grad, Howard Lazarus believes strongly in respecting chains of command. According to mayor Christopher Taylor, that's what put him at odds with the councilmembers who removed him in February. It's also what got police chief Mike Cox in trouble over a parking ticket-fixing investigation in his department--and spared him formal punishment for violating a direct order from the administrator.

Cox came here last September after retiring from the Boston police department, only to be put on leave six months later over his role in the parking investigation. An outside report by law firm Miller Canfield found that Cox "appeared to attempt to convince people not to conduct an investigation into a supervisor" and "evidence [showed] that people feared retaliation by the Chief."

Lazarus put Cox on administrative leave, and directed him not to discuss the case; after a new internal investigation, the parking supervisor was fired. But Cox made things worse for himself by calling in two deputy chiefs to vent about the leave--an action the report called "insubordination."

A contrite Cox explained in a letter to council that he "did not read the letter placing me on administrative leave until after I had already violated its conditions." But more may have been at work than inattention: according to the report, "the Chief believes that he effectively has no boss when it comes to policing [and] nobody can tell him how to run the Police Department."

"While the matter of addressing parking tickets ... may seem trivial, arbitrary enforcement of these policies undermines discipline," Lazarus wrote in a letter to council. He added that while "I do not consider Chief Cox to be intentionally subordinate [sic], nevertheless, his comments about 'not having a boss' as it relates to police operations are problematic. While working within a smaller police agency with a direct reporting relationship with the City Administrator has been an adjustment, it does not excuse the belief that he can operate without control."

Lazarus made it clear that if the council hadn't fired him, he would have gone further and suspended the police chief. "Although I have the authority to issue a suspension," Lazarus wrote, "I am not taking that action given the extenuating circumstance that I will not be the City Administrator" when the suspension ended.

Police unions have questioned Cox's ability to continue to lead the department. But, Taylor notes, "the chief has community support"--and the support of council's new majority.     (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2020.]


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