Our City Police Chief Michael Cox and his wife (an anesthesiologist) have lived here for less than a year. Some of the questions that I typically ask were less relevant in this conversation because Chief Cox and his wife both work jobs that are essential (and fundamentally the same as before) during this pandemic. Chief Cox described how the work of our city’s police department has adjusted to the current situation and adjusted its policies. He urges members of our community to keep busy and find purpose in the things we can control during these times when so many things are beyond our control.
This is part of a series of interviews with Ann Arbor residents, talking about personal experiences adjusting to (and adapting during) the COVID-19 crisis. This interview was conducted remotely via the ZOOM application. I appear in this video as “Mrs. Nelson” – we talked over the ZOOM account that I use primarily with my preschool class. Interviewed April 26, 2020
So I am talking to Ann Arbor’s city’s Police Chief Michael Cox. I want to thank you for agreeing to talk to me!
Well, thank you for having me — I am always happy to talk to a citizen of Ann Arbor!
So, I started with Stephen Postema, in terms of our city’s essential workers… obviously our legal department is very different from our Police Department but I am asking everybody the same question (which you can answer sort of however you like) which is: how has your life changed, what kind of adjustments have you had to make during this pandemic?
Wow, so that’s a good question… so I have my personal life and I have a work life and I’ll try to answer a little bit of both. I’ll start off with… personal life is easier, I think maybe. Just making sure that I’m cognizant of my environments, my surroundings. You know, I was always a hand to mouth kind of person, whether pens going in my mouth or anything else. Now I’m just very cognizant of what I touch, washing, cleaning, things of that nature. Of course, now we know… the wearing of masks, the walking of dogs [and] social distancing, those things didn’t come natural, certainly to me and probably to most people so I, like everyone else, had to adjust quite a bit, my own personal habits and just being aware of what I’m doing daily makes it a lot easier to be more hygienically-sound, if that’s a word. So that’s on the personal front.
On the work front, things have been a little different in the sense that I spend a lot more time doing research: seeing what other cities are doing, what other police departments have experienced, what other countries (and certainly their police departments) have experienced regarding this worldwide pandemic. I do spend a fair amount of time researching that. I’m like, daily just from yesterday’s happenings to this afternoon’s deals. So I spend a lot more time doing that and then checking with what we’re currently doing and making sure that people are feeling good about work, feeling good about themselves, feeling good about being prepared to deal with whatever we have to deal with on a daily basis.
Anytime you go through something as traumatic as this event is (for everyone) you have to be aware: as humans, we go back to that fight and flight mentality. So I just want to make sure that people are in the right frame of mind and understand that this is still America, what our values are, and remind people what they are… what they are, even during times of very serious, serious consequences that this pandemic brings forward.
I just want people to know that yes, this is scary but we can get through it. More importantly, just understand what we know and what we don’t know and then deal with the knowns on a daily basis and just focus on that and not focus on the negativity that can come from this kind of stuff.
I don’t know if that answers your questions but that’s kind of a Reader’s Digest version of what I’ve been doing, I think.
You know, it’s interesting… talking to Stephen Postema, obviously his job is one that can easily transfer to home and yours is not (like, not at all!). So maybe could you tell me a little bit about what kind of adjustments that our force has had to make?
Oh sure, yes. So the transition for us from what we traditionally do to today — it was very quick, but it was a transition. In police work, we have a ton of rules and procedures and regulations that help us deal with the day-to-day activities of dealing with the public. This pandemic, it’s almost the exact opposite where we’re not — we don’t want to deal —with the public, in the sense that we need to keep our social distance, we need to make sure that we don’t make anyone ill, as well as vice versa (because we have to make sure that the police department still runs). So we’ve had to change some of our policies and procedures regarding how we interact with people, in a little different way than we did in the past.
As an example… if we went to someone’s home we might ask them: could they talk to us outside? versus us going inside (normally which we would routinely do pretty quickly), just to try to keep the environment more open and free of potential disease or what have you. We’ve had to change a ton of things. We’re less likely to proactively engage the public. Whether it’s speeding tickets or (not saying that we won’t pull you over for speeding, that’s not the case) I’m just saying that, we’re less likely to do things on minor nature calls, of that nature.
We’ve had to make sure that the we had the appropriate amount of PPE for all our employees (that’s protective equipment), just to make sure that they’re not exposed unnecessarily to this pandemic. That is something we didn’t have to do before, unless we went into an environment where we knew that there were absolute dangers out there. But now, we go into EVERY situation not knowing what we are going to be exposed to and that’s a little different.
The officers have to clean their vehicles before they get in the vehicles, after they get out of the vehicles, in between (every day) if they have anyone getting in and out of cars. They do a very good job of doing that. Starting probably tomorrow, all the officers will be required to wear a mask — similar to the cloth masks that everyone else has— as well as their other N95 masks and other masks that we have, just to do the job, just to make sure that we’re not exposing each other to any potential disease.
Oh goodness… there’s a whole host of other changes that we’ve had to do regarding our protocols and I can’t even recall them all, but I do know that that’s part of the routine and what we do daily, as we look at what we typically do and see how it fits into tomorrow’s world. Since the world is changing so rapidly regarding of this pandemic, we always have to look at our protocols and procedures to see if we can do something to make our job safer and to make our interactions with the public safer.
I appreciate that… so now I can shift to the question that every person who’s just sort of sitting at home is able to describe to me: how are you (how is your household) adjusting with the day-to-day tasks where somebody has to go to the grocery store and pick up food, those day-to-day situations where we have to go out in public? I know that your job means that you’re constantly going out in public, anyway, but what kind of routines do you have in your household for the things that you bring home?
So the routines are fairly limited in the sense that I am, I guess, both blessed and cursed in the sense that I have one of the positions that I have to go into work every day. My wife — it’s just me and my wife and we have two small dogs — she goes into work every day, as well. She’s a physician, actually an anesthesiologist. She works pretty long hours so pretty much the weekends are the only times that we may or may not go out. To be honest, she actually goes out and shops, brings in the food because she still likes to do that. Of course, I help her, I go occasionally with her.
There’s still quite a few things to do on the weekends here, we find. We do walk the dogs together or I’ll walk the dogs (I think that’s my main responsibility). Going for long walks with the dogs—which is kind of fun after being cooped up in the house (even on the weekend) or cooped up at work for that matter — it’s nice to be able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. A walk with the animals who have no clue what’s going on (whether they care)… but that’s a very good thing. Just between the shopping… pretty much that’s it, and figuring out what delivery we’re going to receive (if that’s the case), if we order out or make it ourselves. Pretty much we’re contained to walking the dogs, going grocery shopping like everyone else, and take out. We had the routine of maybe watching a movie every once in a while, a pay-per-view movie or something like that on the screen and that’s about it.
It’s a pretty boring lifestyle, but I must admit that we are both pretty busy in general. Even during downtime, there’s a lot of research I should be doing (am doing) to look things up and she does it as well, just to make sure she keeps up with the latest and greatest in the medical profession and protocols and things of that nature.
Staying busy, being purposeful has a way of eating up time and it takes your mind away from some of these things, too, so there might be a method to the madness. I don’t know, but I stay pretty busy so I don’t really think about much other than the next thing I have to do.
I think a few people have told me this, that keeping busy seems to be a good strategy.
What kind of precautions do you take when you do go outside, like going outdoors to walk your dogs?
So I do have gloves I don’t always use them but I always have a napkin or towel. I don’t touch metal door handles and even if I do, I immediately come back and wash my hands as soon as possible. We keep Purell in the car… hand sanitizers every time I go from one place to another, I just do it and routinely clean off the surfaces that I touch. Obviously, we wear a mask— I have a surgical type mask (it’s not an actual surgical mask but a surgical type mask that looks similar to that) that I wear when I go out with the dogs, as well as when I go to
work. Outside of those things: washing my hands routinely— I think I probably washed them way too much! That’s the main thing, washing my hands keeping my hands and trying to keep my hands away from my mouth and face and things of that nature I do that pretty routinely.
I clean off my phone screens and my computer screens and keyboards off two or three times a day, at least, and the door handles at the house. When we come back in and we go out I always clean all the door handles, all the mechanisms that we might touch. That’s metal refrigerator handles, stoves, just in case we bumped into (or touched) something while we were outside that was on a surface. That might prevent it from coming inside.
So these are the kind of things we do, as well as having an in-house air filter, filtration that supposedly picks up a lot of the germs and things of that nature. I have no clue if it does or not but mentally I turn it on so it makes me feel better.
I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of some of what you’ve described, like wiping things down and keeping things clean and I’ve asked everybody: what would you say to people who are just really frustrated by the guidelines that we’re trying to maintain and would prefer to just live normally… just sort of throw it out the window. You know, like, we just had protests in Lansing of people who are like “we’re sick of this.”
What would you say… what would you say to people like that?
Well, what they’re feeling, I’ll acknowledge that I probably feel it too, everyone feels that. It’s what are you gonna do with it? It’s that negative energy that I talked about and about what you can do. The reality is, this is where we are right now and I think it’s important for people to acknowledge what we can do and then just let go what you can’t. You can’t undo the fact that this pandemic is here. What you can do is focus on what it takes to stay safe, what does it take for us all to get through this together as fast as possible without going backwards.
If people don’t continue to voluntarily comply with all the things that we’ve been asked to do, there’s an opportunity for this pandemic to come back on us in a different way or continue it far longer than we need to.
So we want people to be patient and understand that there’s a reason why we’re doing what we’re doing. Yes, this is frustrating but it’s going to be more frustrating if you don’t listen and have come back even more or extend this a lot longer than it needs to be because of the fact that we didn’t have the patience to do all the things that we needed to do now to stay safe.
You’ve heard it a ton before, about [how] we live in the community. We do, right? We need each other, we need each other to listen to these rules so we can all stay safe. The fact is, one person who gets sick exposes us all and so we should learn how to take care of each other individually first and then by doing that we’ll be able to take care of the entire community.
So I would tell people: please just stay safe, be patient and hopefully we’ll all get through this very soon. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so, yes, it is difficult— this time period —but we’ll get through it as long as they’re patient and abide by the guidelines that the CDC and other health professionals are putting out there for us.
Well, that is the end of the questions that I typically ask people so the only thing that I would say is um do you have anything to add no it means the only thing I have to add?
The only thing that I would add is, I would say for the most part that the residents here in Ann Arbor have been overwhelmingly compliant with everything that we’ve asked them to do, from that standpoint. We worry as the warm weather comes that— we do have a younger population of people here as well that — we ask them to continue to comply to what we’ve asked them to do, particularly with CDC rules and social distancing because that’s very important for all our health. I know the first 80 or 85 degree day, that would be a really big deal for a lot of people and they’ll want to go out and think it’s over. But listen to the health professionals: remember we need them all to comply. The last thing you need is for the police to come and end up writing a citation or having to arrest you just because of the fact that you just couldn’t be patient even on a nice day.
That being said, I’m sure everyone will absolutely continue to do what they’ve been doing and that’s the expectation. I don’t think anything different will happen but I just want to remind folks that there’s a reason why we’re doing this stuff.
Thank you very much for having me on. You know, there is a loneliness portion to this…other than seeing my wife (which I don’t mind) and work, we don’t see very many friendly faces so it’s very good to see you and it will be good to see you and the other City Council persons from time to time again.
Well, you’ve just prompted me to think of another question which is: how are you adding in extra interactions? A lot of people have talked about, like, ZOOMing with family and stuff. Your kids live far away or do they live in town? I’m not sure I know that?
They do, I actually have a son that lived in New York. He’s actually now in my house in Boston now with my daughter and my other son lives with his girlfriend in the Boston area. We talk to them by phone. They really won’t Skype me too much, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what’s going on in the background, but they will talk by phone and they text all the time so it’s good to know that they are kind of together and safe in that way, so I feel far more comfortable there. My youngest is 21. They are adult children, so to speak, but — no matter how old they get they’re still your children —so just hearing from them from time to time just makes us feel pretty good that they’re okay, that’s what we care about in that way.
As far as work is concerned, we do TEAMS meetings all the time and that’s been a very good way to communicate with people and we do quite often. As a matter of fact, the other day I almost felt as though I was meeting even more than I’d met before this pandemic, just because there’s so many TEAM meetings. I’m just going from one to another to another. My gosh, it’s like no breaks! The IT department’s done a great job of helping us stay up and running with each other as far as reaching out and having meetings and still complying with the social distance.
We have meetings with personnel, with the other chiefs in the county, with other
agencies, of course, obviously, with city government, the city administrator. We meet all day long and we talk about a whole host of things and it’s been pretty tremendous, the technology involved with this. I didn’t think we would be able to segue so quickly and so easily to an IT mode but we have.
From a community policing point of view, we’re trying to reach out to all our community groups to see if we can start to do this. I think this week coming up we’re going have our first kind of TEAM meeting via community policing, just to see how the residents are doing, seeing what their concerns are and how we can help them. I’m kind of excited to see if we can continue to do all the things we want to do through the IT format, whatever it means we do…whether it’s ZOOM or through TEAMS meetings to make sure that we connect with the citizens and make sure that we are answering their questions and making sure that their fears are relieved in some way or form, by us answering their questions and finding out what concerns that they have. I’m excited about next week and I’m sure it will go well.
It’s definitely been my impression that those of you who are full-time employees of the city have absolutely stepped up. We’re all leaning really hard on our IT department now but everybody, sort of everybody is having to come together in a different way and work in a different way and I’m just… I feel really lucky to live in Ann Arbor. I feel like things are coming together really nicely.
Prior to coming here —and I’ve been here about seven, eight months— I was in the city of Boston. It’s a pretty major city and I still have contacts with the people there, particularly during this pandemic. I would say that Ann Arbor is certainly if not running as well, maybe better in many different ways, as far as communication is concerned, with all the department heads and things of that nature. Ann Arbor is an elite city doing quite well during this and I’m happy to be here. Everyone should be proud of what they’ve done because they have not missed a step as far as making sure that the public and the citizens here are safe.
Well, thank you so much for talking to me on what looks to be maybe
a good day for a bike ride— I’m hopeful about that!
I see the sun out there, yes.. the dogs are looking at me now so I think it’s time. Thank you very much for having me and you stay safe.
I appreciate that!
Let us know how we can be of service
I will, thank you!
Thank you. Bye bye!