Onetime Titan is Now Chief of Alexandria's Police Department

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009

When Alexandria's new police chief, Earl L. Cook, joined the force 30 years ago, there were about eight other African American officers in the department.

Cook, who grew up in the city's public housing complex known as the Berg, had recently graduated from Duke University with a degree in history and education and felt a pull to come back home to Alexandria.

In the academy, he sensed some racism from fellow officers but said it was nothing he hadn't dealt with before. He was, after all, a player on the T.C. Williams High School football team depicted in the movie "Remember the Titans," which is about a racially fractured squad.

"Race was the elephant in the room," said Cook, who had his sights on becoming a detective when he joined the force.

His parents taught him to "look beyond color," he said, even though they grew up in a more segregated time.

Last month, he became the first African American chief in the city's 260-year history. He had wanted the top spot for several years but never imagined it would happen this way.

He was second in command of the 400-member department in July when Chief David P. Baker, a close friend and highly respected top cop, was involved in a car crash in Arlington County and was arrested for drunken driving. Baker stepped down and served five days in jail.

Cook, 54, was immediately named acting chief, and weeks later he accepted the permanent job.

He said he felt warmly welcomed but had to get over the hurdle of replacing such a popular chief.

"A number of officers were quite sad. There's been almost a grieving," he said. "We're slowly working our way back to normalcy."

Cook went to every roll call, even in the early mornings, to talk to the troops. He told them he would continue the policies and practices they were familiar with, and that worked well for the department.

"It was a hard thing for the department to go through," said Mike Kochis, president of the Alexandria Police Benevolent Association. "But Chief Cook told everyone that we're going to continue the way we were. He said, 'This is a change in leadership, not a change in direction.' "

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