By Lee Davis
Unlike some in his profession, Ted Cook admits that he enjoys watching police procedural dramas on television.
“I like them. NCIS is probably my favorite, along with Hawaii Five-0,” Cook said. “But they are only marginally realistic.”
Cook probably gets enough realism in police work every day. As chief of police in Mountain Brook for the past five years, he has been tasked with running one of Alabama’s most respected law enforcement agencies.
“We have a lot of resources here,” Cook said while taking a quick break from his duties last week. “But the best one is something money can’t buy. We have great community support. A police department can’t be the best possible without the cooperation and respect from the people it serves.”
While every municipality provides unique challenges, Cook said a police officer’s job is difficult even in the best of circumstances.
“Remember that nobody ever calls the police because they are having such a great day,” he said. “Often when people need the police, it’s one of the worst days of their lives. Our job is to come in and fix the situation as fairly and quickly as possible.”
The recent months have been a difficult time for law enforcement as a rash of recent police shootings – some resulting in the deaths of officers – have grabbed headlines across the county. Cook, like many in his profession, is concerned about the future of the profession in modern America.
“Two things can change the attitude that many have toward the police,” he said. “First some national leaders need to be more responsible with their rhetoric. Secondly, crime can get so bad in neighborhoods that people demand that officers be allowed to do their jobs.”
Contrary to what many think, police methods have evolved greatly in recent decades, according to Cook. “In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a lot more physicality about the way police handled suspects,” he said. “There were more arrests, cuffing and taking people to jail. There’s still a time and place for that, but we’ve become more mindful of alternatives through the years.”
As much as Cook enjoys forensic dramas on television, he said they also create many misconceptions about how law enforcement works. “Most of the time, fingerprints don’t lead to an identification,” he said. “And few cases have as much clear-cut evidence as you see on TV and movies.”
Cook became chief of police in Mountain Brook in 2011, climaxing a distinguished career that spans three decades. A graduate of Homewood High School, he decided upon a career in law enforcement as a teenager. After earning a degree from Auburn University, Cook worked with the Birmingham Police Department in a variety of capacities, including SWAT operations and mounted patrol. But one tragic date will never leave his memory: June 17, 2004. Cook was the lieutenant of the day shift when three police officers were shot and killed in Ensley.
“The recent events around the country have kept everything about that day in my memory,” Cook said. “Whenever there is an on-duty death, it tears your heart out, but to have three is incredible and you never forget it.”
Cook, 55, served as chief of police of Leeds for three years before moving over to Mountain Brook.
“Leeds was different in the sense that the crimes ran the gambit across the board, while in Mountain Brook, a prime concern was robberies, and specifically home burglaries,” he said. “But both are great places where the police officers get tremendous support.”
The chief said that presently one particular crime rate is growing faster than any other. “That’s undoubtedly identity and credit card theft,” he explained. “There’s been a massive increase. It often happens at a restaurant or other place of business that isn’t secure. There are even groups that get credit cards and sell the numbers.”
Cook is confident that his police unit – which numbers nearly 60 officers – is ready for the challenges of the 21st century. Mountain Brook’s officers are among the best-trained in the state. In addition to the 14-week training program at the Alabama Police Academy, the city’s police cadets must also complete Mountain Brook’s own comprehensive 14-week regimen.
“We look for the best at the front end and have a very selective process in choosing officers,” he said. “Our standards are very high.”
Mountain Brook’s citizens clearly appreciate their police department’s work. Like many residents of other cities, Mountain Brook residents regularly bring food and cards with encouraging notes or other expressions of gratitude to the Police Headquarters in Crestline Village.
“It’s always great to have the one-on-one contact with the people,” he said. “Anything anyone does to say, ‘Thank you,’ means a lot to all of our officers.”
Cook’s personal plans do not call for a change in the foreseeable future.
“I’ve got the best job in the state,” he said. “I’ve got no ambition except to do the best I can every day.”