Police Chief Earl Cook to retire in October

Police Chief Earl Cook to retire in October

By Erich Wagner (Courtesy photo)

Editor’s note: this article appeared in the June 30 print edition of the Times.

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook announced June 24 that he would retire from the department October 1, ending nearly four decades of service to the city.

Cook was the first black police chief in Alexandria’s history and was appointed in 2009 after then-Chief David Baker resigned following a drunk driving arrest. An Alexandria native, Cook graduated from T.C. Williams High School in 1973, earned his degree from Duke University and joined the police department in 1979.

The chief oversaw a period of sustained reductions in violent crime, as well as some of the city’s more notorious homicide investigations. He carried the flag in the investigation of the death of Nancy Dunning, proclaiming on an annual basis that the case would never go cold. That persistence paid off with the arrest of Charles Severance, who later was convicted of murder in connection with the deaths of Dunning, transportation guru Ronald Kirby and piano teacher Ruthanne Lodato.

“As a lifelong Alexandrian, it’s been an incredible honor to serve this very special community,” Cook said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to pursue a rewarding career and work with some of the finest men and women in law enforcement. My retirement is bittersweet; however, I look forward to the future challenges in my life.”

Mayor Allison Silberberg said in a statement that she was sad to see Cook leave, but was thankful for his many years of service to the community.

“While I certainly wish Chief Earl Cook all good and great things in his well-de- served retirement, I am personally sorry to hear about his retirement,” she said. “Chief Cook has been an outstanding police chief and public servant in our beloved city for decades. He has also been my good friend and a good friend to all. His leadership and compassion in our city will be sorely missed.”

City Manager Mark Jinks will be responsible for appointing Cook’s successor. He said the city is enlisting the help of the city-based International Association of Chiefs of Police in both a
local and nationwide search for candidates, which he said will take from four to six months.

“The police chief is one of the most important positions in city government,” Jinks said. “Therefore, the selection process has to be carefully structured and must include input from the community.”

Jinks said officials will reach out to residents and stakeholders in the near future to help come up with a list of characteristics Alexandrians want to see in the next chief.

“The community input will start when we put together a profile of the position,” he said. “We want to know what people believe is important in terms of qualities, characteristics and experience of a police chief. We’ll engage community stakeholders as well as employees within the police department to provide that input.

“That will result in a recruitment information — basically a marketing brochure — that describes what we’re looking for, what challenges the department is facing, etc., so [applicants] have an understanding of what kind of position they’re applying for.”

Jinks said he hopes to have a new chief in place by the end of 2016.

Silberberg said in an interview that she would be inclined to promote the next chief from among the city’s current ranks.

“There’s a search firm that has been selected by the city manager to help with a national search, but in addition to that, those who already serve in the Alexandria Police Department are welcome and encouraged to apply as well,” she said. “I have made it clear that I think it’s my preference that we always try to hire from within if possible. We have an excellent police force — it’s absolutely superb — and there’s a lot of talent there. They know our city, they’re devoted to our city and they’re a part of our city.”

City Councilor John Chapman said he would like to see a police chief that continues Cook’s efforts to increase visibility and communication between the police and the residents they protect.

“He’s done a good job on his watch. We’ve seen crime go down tremendously,” he said. “Even while we’ve been in recession and seen re- sources cut, we’ve seen that department really focus on public safety in a number of ways, like trying to get better engagement with the community. I will be going on a number of his Walking with the Chief events in the summer, and having someone more than willing to engage with residents is the thing we want in Alexandria.”

Vice Mayor Justin Wilson lauded Cook’s work over the years and said he trusts Jinks to make a strong choice to lead the department into the future.

“[Cook] is a lifelong Alexandrian, someone who grew up here and came back to serve the community,” Wil- son said. “You really couldn’t ask for more. … I’m not going to prejudge that decision for Jinks, but I hope he brings in an individual who earns the respect of the community and the men and women who serve in the department.

“From communication to community policing, responsiveness and working with the public, I’m sure the manager will bring someone who will do all of that.”

Original post, June 25, 2 p.m.:

By Chris Teale

The Alexandria Police Department announced late Friday that Police Chief Earl Cook will retire in October after more than 37 years of service to the city.

Cook was appointed chief of police in 2009, the first African-American to hold the position in Alexandria. He began as a police academy recruit in 1979 with APD, and worked his way up to assistant chief, in charge of managing the criminal investigations bureau.

“Chief Cook has devoted his entire career to this community, and we are indebted to him for his dedication and service,” said City Manager Mark Jinks in a statement. “Alexandria’s high quality of life and historically low crime rates are due in large part to Chief Cook’s leadership and the outstanding staff under his decades of command.”

Cook is a native Alexandrian, and grew up on Princess Street. He attended Lyles-Crouch and Mount Vernon elementary schools, Parker-Gray Middle School and George Washington High School through 10th grade. He transferred to T.C. Williams High School after it was integrated, and played on the 1971 state championship football team immortalized in the Disney film “Remember the Titans.”

“As a lifelong Alexandrian, it’s been an incredible honor to serve this very special community,” Cook said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to pursue a rewarding career and work with some of the finest men and women in law enforcement. My retirement is bittersweet; however, I look forward to the future challenges in my life.”

The city has retained the International Association of Chiefs of Police to recruit Cook’s successor from inside the Alexandria Police Department and across the nation. The search will include input from stakeholders throughout the community; and officials said additional details will be announced as they are developed.