The appointment of Chief of Police Earl Cook to the top post in the Alexandria Police Department is a multifaceted combination of historical significance, sheer logic and shrewdness that will ultimately benefit the city’s public safety services. The decision also reflects some positive aspects of the city that are encouraging if unsurprising.
Since being born at the old Duke hospital, Cook has been an Alexandrian. Growing up in public housing in The Berg neighborhood and attending the city’s public school system, the 30-year police officer no doubt possesses a unique understanding of the city that he is charged with protecting its endless crevices and street corners, its history (criminal and otherwise), and most of all, its people.
When Cook spoke at Tuesday’s press conference it was obvious that he spoke as one of the city’s sons, calling out the names of mentors and friends from throughout his years in the city with a tinge of small-town adherence to them that only a lifelong resident could echo. The interconnectedness that one shares with their hometown is one thing; to still reside here and now oversee the safety of the city that molded Cook’s character and ability is another.
That ability took him through the ranks of the APD where he sat as the second in command until Tuesday, when his character, responsible attitude and leadership skills were applauded by his colleagues.
There is no more ideal situation for such a crucial job than to have a storied piece of the city’s fabric take charge of the city’s security blanket. It is out of a storybook and therefore hard not to romanticize: A minority born to a big family in a poor neighborhood named for refugee slaves from Petersburg during the Civil War. A childhood friend and neighbor of the city’s eventual first black mayor, Bill Euille. A member of the 1971 T.C. Williams Titan football team (romanticized by Hollywood in its own right) that broke down racial barriers to win a championship. And now, more than three decades later, the city’s first black chief of police.
It is also a story that comes at an ideal time for the city, which has had a rough year since a parking meter worker embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars and the former police chief was arrested for drunk driving.
Cook’s race is significant, yes as yet another benchmark for the city and society as a whole. It represents progress. But it cannot overshadow the merit of his hard work and ascension through the ranks, nor his lifelong connection to the city in which he still lives, unlike the majority of city employees. The decision to appoint Cook chief was easily the most logical choice possible. Between his intangibly unique perspective of the city and his service thus far, it was the only choice.