To Avery Cook, teaching kids karate at the CK&A Karate School downtown has some parallels to policing.
Cook, who started as West Point’s police chief on Friday, has taught karate for 24 years. He’s a third-degree black belt, and looks at his experience as something to share with the community.
“Coming up through the ranks, you strive to get that black belt,” Cook said. “You work hard to get that black belt. And like being a police officer, you give back. It’s giving back to the kids, giving something to the youth.”
Cook, 54, is also a big Mississippi State University athletics fan, as is evidenced by the posters and magazines he keeps in his office. He said he’s also a huge fan of the West Point High School Green Wave, and has escorted the football team for the past four years.
He’s especially confident in the Class 5A defending champion Green Wave this season, as the team sports a flawless 4-0 record.
“I think we’re going to go to state again this year and win it all,” he said.
Cook’s hire as West Point’s police chief is a return to where his law enforcement career began 17 years ago. It’s another step on a career path he hadn’t envisioned for himself when he wrapped up 21 years of military service.
At the time, he said, then WPPD assistant chief Gary Turner and patrol captain Eddie Johnson convinced him to give it a try.
“They were the determining factors in me deciding to make this a career,” Cook said. “Once I got into it, I saw that I really liked it and this is what I wanted to do. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
During Cook’s first stint with WPPD, he served as a shift supervisor and as assistant chief under former chiefs Tim Brinkley and Bobby Lane. In 2013, he went to work with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, where he served as an investigator and commander of the patrol division.
Cook is a West Point native, and he said that’s drawn him to continue his law enforcement career in the community.
“I was born and raised here,” he said. “I graduated high school here. I have three kids, and two of them live in this community. My grandkids are here. I care about this community, I work in this community and I think it’s a great community.”
Mayor Robbie Robinson said Cook’s familiarity with West Point should be an advantage for the department.
“I think it’s good to have someone locally who knows the community and the people,” Robinson said. “He’s coming in and doesn’t have to learn everybody’s name. He doesn’t have to try to become familiar with different sections and parts of town.”
Goals for the department
Cook now takes command of a department with about 25 officers. He said WPPD is structured for up to 32 officers, and one of his early goals will be adding manpower as the holiday season approaches.
“In my experience over at the police department, this time of year, crime rates increase with burglaries and robberies and stuff like that,” he said. “I think behind building a relationship with the community, at the same time, (we need to) get a hiring process started to hire more officers and be more vigilant.”
Another goal, Cook said, is to focus on relationship-building between the police department and the community. He said he understands that police today see more scrutiny than in the past.
Cook also said he feels WPPD’s relationship with the public has degraded over time and must be improved. He declined to speak to the specific issues that have contributed to a breakdown in trust between the community and department, but he said it will be essential to make sure officers know how to properly interact with the public.
“You can get some of that at the academy, but a lot of it is on-the-job training,” he said. “… I want to improve that. That will go a long way in improve the relationship with the community. We want them to de-escalate situations and not become a part of the situation.”
Robinson said he thinks Cook’s plan to focus on community relationship improvement will be essential for the department. He said it’s important both for the community to trust the police, and for the police department to know it can trust the community.
“It’s a mutual, two-way street,” he said. “I think it’s a very good thing.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.