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Washtenaw United: Working to strengthen law enforcement-community relations

Washtenaw County/City of Ann Arbor
(From L to R) Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton and Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Jerry Clayton

Jerry L. Clayton is a 30+ year Public Safety Services professional, currently serving his fourth term as the Sheriff of Washtenaw County. Sheriff Clayton leads an organization of approximately 420 staff, serving a population of over 358,000, covering a 720-square mile geographical area.

During his career with the Sheriff’s Office, Jerry served as a front-line Corrections Officer, Deputy Sheriff and command officer. He was also appointed to the following executive positions; Corrections Commander, Police Services Commander and SWAT Team Commander).

Jerry has been a certified criminal justice trainer and instructor for more than twenty-five years. He has provided training, and consulting services to a variety of private and public-sector clients, including the United States Department of Justice, the National Sheriff’s Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sheriff Clayton serves on the boards of numerous local organizations. These include the Washtenaw Area Council for Children, the local Chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the Washtenaw County Mental Health Treatment Court Advisory Board, Washtenaw County Continuum of Care Board (ending homelessness) and the SafeHouse Center.

Jerry has received international recognition for his expertise and work in the Criminal Justice profession. In 2016, he was invited as a representative of U.S. law enforcement Barcelona, Spain. In 2017, at the invitation of the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, Sheriff Clayton was the representative from the United States and a presenter at an international conference on law enforcement and bias-based policing in Geneva, Switzerland. In February of 2018, Sheriff Clayton participated in a US-UK exchange in London, England, focusing on Building Leadership for Fair and Effective Policing.

Sheriff Clayton attended Eastern Michigan University, majoring in Public Safety Administration. He also graduated from the EMU School of Staff and Command and numerous other Leadership programs. Jerry is married to his wife of 30 years, Sybil, and has 3 sons.

Michael Cox

Michael Cox was appointed Chief of Police of the Ann Arbor Police Department in the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan on July 15, 2019. Prior to his appointment Chief Cox was a 30-year veteran of the Boston Police Department. While last there he served as the Bureau Chief and Superintendent of the Bureau of Professional Development, overseeing the Boston Police Academy, The Firearms Training Unit, the Police Cadet Unit, Recruit training and in-service training for all sworn Boston Police personnel.

Chief Cox served a total of 15 years on the Command Staff in diverse functions over that time. Before the Academy, Chief Cox was the commander of the Operations Division, primarily responsible for the Emergency 9-1-1 Response Services for the City of Boston. In addition, Chief Cox was previously assigned to the head of Internal Affairs as the Assistant Bureau Chief of Professional Standards, Zone Commander of Area E, and the Commander of the Forensic Division and Assistant Bureau Chief of the Bureau of Investigative Services.

Before Chief Cox’s Command Staff assignments at the Boston Police Department, he worked as a Sergeant Detective in the Intelligence Unit where he performed Dignitary Protection duties, served as the liaison to the U.S. Secret Service, and supervisor assigned to the Joint Terrorist Task Force. At this rank, he also served assignments in the Internal Affairs, Recruit Investigations, and Audit & Review Units. As a Police Officer, Chief Cox worked in Area B-3 until joining the City-wide Anti-Gang Violence Unit until his promotion to Sergeant in 1995. Chief Cox is a two-time Medal of Honor recipient and received numerous other Commendations and awards while serving in the Boston Police Department.

Chief Cox is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, Police Executive Research Forum and holds degrees from Providence College in Business Management, Curry College where he obtained a Master’s in Criminal Justice, and Boston University’s Questrom School of Business where he obtained an MBA.


Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department

Ann Arbor Police Department

Michael Cox

Jerry Clayton

To revisit Part 1 of this conversation, click here.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we continue our final Washtenaw United Black History Month conversation, and today, we're talking policing with Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton. In part one of our conversation, we touched on the history of policing in America and how that's impacted our guests and communities. Now we want to look at where we are, where we're headed, and the new history that is yet to be written. As awful as the pandemic has been, gentlemen, has it offered an opportunity to reevaluate strategy and policy in how our communities are policed? And Chief Cox, we'll start with you.

Michael Cox: I'll say this that I have a product of community policing, you know, community-oriented policing. And the fact is that that particular philosophy is actually designed to build relationships and things like that. So, from my perspective, no. It is really about the good practices of what policing is supposed to be about. Along the way, throughout the history of policing from, you know, that era to the reform era to the professional era in policing where law enforcement got away from talking to the public and it became an era where police knew what was best. We're the professionals. We're going to run the show. We were driven by numbers. And it really got away from community policing. Building trust with the community got away from taking input from the people that we serve. I'm just trying to get people on board. Well, if you understand what this is, we're doing what the public wants. We're getting to know them. They're getting to know us. So, we're building ties and relationships. So, if something happens, you know, we already have relationships around this subject matter. We can have uncomfortable conversations or conversations in general. We can learn from one another. That is what it's really about. We are partnering with the community and everyone else on how do we solve and resolve the issues of the day. And so, no. My philosophy hasn't changed. However, you hear all this reform like, "Oh my God, we need to reinvent the wheel". How about we actually use the wheel that a lot of places have not, you know, put on their car whatsoever?

David Fair: Sheriff Clayton, what are the barriers to getting that wheel rolling?

Jerry Clayton: I think it does roll in certain spaces. If you're looking at the overall perspective is over 18,000 different police agencies. We don't have a national police agency. You have all these different spaces that believe police services should be delivered in a variety of different ways. And there's no universal here's how you do it. Everything that Chief Cox talked about in terms of community policing, you know, we've been doing around community engagement for 15 years. Some people recognize that, and some don't, and some lump all police into the same category. I'm going to continue to say if we really want to talk about the change, you need cultural change in police agencies, changing the basic assumption of who we are, why we exist, an acknowledgment of our history. So, you talked about the southern slave patrols, but let's not forget northern policing, which started, I think, the first one was in Boston, which was really about protecting property and, get this, remember slave patrols while protecting property, too. And I mention that to say you have to know your history and chart the relationship between the development of American policing and the African-American experience and the government's role in all of this 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated slavery except for commission of a crime. We set the platform for states to make be not having a job a crime and then having the police be the ones to actually enforce it. You talked about Jim Crow, but let's not forget the Black codes. We have to recognize that and recognize we have to change institutional organizational culture. And then, I'll end with this piece. And you can't change that until you change societal culture. So, I understand why the focus is on policing, because police professionals, the decisions they make, and the actions that they take are the only ones in this country that can profoundly change people and what we value most, right? Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. So, I understand why the focus is there, but let's not sugarcoat this bias in society. And if we think police have the sole responsibility for that, that's insane. And we get police from society. So, let's address all of that. So, let's have the full, honest conversation about how we get there and not have a narrow focus.

David Fair: Once again, you're listening to 891 WEMU's Washtenaw United, and we're talking with Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton as we talk about culture change and dealing with the systemic biases that go into it, the inherent biases as well. When each of you engage young men and women in our community, are you recommending to them that part of the culture change could be by becoming involved with law enforcement?

Michael Cox: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's what I was thinking when I came on board, and I gave this phrase as I was speaking at University of Michigan, and I gave this. Someone asked me about what it meant. I said, "We need good people." And they said, "What does that mean? What's your definition of good people?" And I said, You know, someone that wants to give back to society. Somebody who likes people. Somebody who wants to actually serve. That's what we need. And if you come on board with that attitude, you can be a tremendous officer and give back to society in so many different ways. There's no better job that you get to do that than this job.

David Fair: And, Sheriff Clayton, if you were to engage a young person who was expressing interest but had some hesitation, even perhaps a mistrust of police, how do you engage them through that conversation?

Jerry Clayton: I think, honestly, and I talk about, listen, I've been in profession over 30 years. If this is how you want to contribute, contribute. I would, as Chief Cox said, not only encourage young folks to join in, but to join in and to try and to strive to get to have a seat at the table to make that kind of change. Chief Cox and I sit at this table for one reason because we want to make change, and I'll say it for him. It's not easy because we get it from both sides, from the people that look like us who have always been supportive. Sometimes we're not pushing hard enough in their eyes. And in the profession because we challenge the status quo, call out the systemic bias that exists in the profession, then we get it from the other side. So, if you're going to do this job, especially as a person of color, just strap it up, have your conviction, don't be afraid, and have the courage to speak what the truth is.

David Fair: As we consider law enforcement as just one component of what has been a corrupted and implicitly biased system, how then do you envision law enforcement's role 10 years from now? Will it look different to deal with a culture shift to something that is more equitable and closer to equality? Chief Cox?

Michael Cox: I mean, I hope it does. It seems to me we're at a crossroad. I mean, this dialog has been going on for many years. One of the things I emphasize, you know, we know how to build trust. We know what good practices are out there. We know who we should be taking the lead from and having communication with. And then there's the practical side of doing things. You know, are we built for success? Do we have enough support to do the things that we need to do to get us to where we need to go? And we need so much support from so many different areas. We don't have our own budgets and income. We don't bring in money, right? So, we have to be supported in that way. We have to be supported, you know, politically. We have to be supported, you know, by society. Right now, there's a cry in some corners for isolation. You know, isolate the police. You know, put them in a corner. Put a dunce hat on them. It's like they don't understand history. At some point, I would imagine in school systems they did that. The kids that either had learning differences or they were acting out in some way because they were struggling. Instead of finding out where they were struggling and helping them overcome those impediments, you know, they treated them poorly. And, as a result, maybe some of those kids ended up in prison. Maybe some of those kids dropped out of school. Their lives were impacted forever and ever. But it didn't help society. There's a lot of people talking about police reform and stuff, but there's not a lot of police in those conversations. And that's what I don't understand, and it's not what are the best practices to make a better product. But we have a long way to go to make sure that we're all held accountable, but we're all structured in such a way that we can be successful, right?

David Fair: And is the standardized way, be it national or statewide, is that the path forward, Sheriff Clayton?

Jerry Clayton: It's a step, but I'll say I'm a little...I'm probably in the most pessimistic space that I've been in in my career around all of this, because the profession and some of the folks in the profession, we're our own worst enemy. It goes back to the culture. I mean, look. How many times have you had a situation where someone in the profession has done something wrong and it's been evaluated and they say, "Well, they were within policy. So it's OK?" No, the policy is fricking wrong or how you do it is wrong. The whole thing around no-knocks. We can spend a whole problem talking about no-knock warrants. And I can give you reasons why that no-knocks should exist in a very small space. But I got to tell you after the last few. Now, I'm like, I don't know if I can defend that, because I don't know if we're exercising our discretion in the most judicious way. Look, I don't want any police officers to ever get hurt, but I don't want anybody else to ever get hurt, either. And I want us to successfully address crime and all that kind of stuff. But you know what? The disparate impact on poor and other folks--Black, Brown, indigenous--is not acceptable collateral damage. We've got to have those conversations. And because I do not believe we can have those conversations across the board and across this country. I'm pessimistic about how it all turns out. So, yeah, we can do the whole national standards, but you're still going to have independent places and communities that believe this is how we should do it ,and they're going to hire police officers and a chief that says, "We're going to do it this way, I don't care what anybody else says." And we're going to be impacted by it because we're all connected. But those that are activists from the outside, sometimes practice exactly what they say. They don't want the police to practice. So, don't look at us all as being bad people or criminals and treat us all the same way. I'm 110 percent behind that, but that works both ways. And the last thing I'll say is we have confused accountability with punishment, and let's focus on funding accountability. So, if you want to sit down with us and talk about how we develop a policy, let's do that. If you want to sit down with us and talk about how we train, what our operational protocols are, matter of fact with us, if you want to sit down and sit on a hiring committee to see who we hire, that's the kind of accountability I want. Let's do it on the front end because we do it on the front end and we do it right, then it's less likely for somebody to be harmed.

David Fair: Gentlemen, I appreciate you spending the time with us today and giving us your perspective, and we will continue to have the conversations that help move us forward.

Michael Cox: Well, thank you.

Jerry Clayton: Thanks so much, David, for giving us the opportunity.

David Fair: That is Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox and Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, our guests on WEMU's Washtenaw United. This segment is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County. And you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD1 Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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