Cambridge City Manager Louis A. DePasquale launched a task force composed of Cambridge officials and residents earlier this month to examine the future of public safety in Cambridge following a national reckoning in policing.
Cambridge City Council members E. Denise Simmons and Marc C. McGovern will chair the task force, which consists of 14 members, including activists, religious leaders, and mental health experts, per a Jan. 7 press release published by the City of Cambridge. The task force will make recommendations to members of the City Council as well as the city manager to take under consideration when determining the City’s budget, DePasquale said in an interview.
The creation of the task force comes after a fraught summer between law enforcement and citizens throughout the country. In Cambridge, local police came under fire in 2020 for officers’ inappropriate social media usage and the release of an inventory report stating that the Cambridge Police Department possessed equipment including an armored vehicle, sniper rifles, 64 M4 assault rifles, and tear gas. Previously, police commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr had said CPD received “no military equipment.”
Cambridge residents have since demanded the demilitarization and defunding of their police department. Following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis Police in June 2020, 2,000 people marched to Cambridge City Hall demanding the defunding of CPD.
After mounting pressure from constituents and city councilors, DePasquale assembled the public safety task force. The task force aims to decrease Cambridge’s reliance on police responses and give a larger role to social service providers in addressing the needs of Cambridge residents, per the press release.
Task force member Chandra Banks, a conflict mediator in the Cambridge Public Schools District and a fifth-generation Cambridge resident, said she will bring experience in restorative justice to the task force. Banks said restorative justice relies on proactive strategies such as education and conflict resolution to address the underlying cause of conflict — as an alternative to traditional responses of the criminal justice system, including police arrests and punishment.
Banks, a Harvard Graduate School of Education alumna, said she believes her role on the task force is to develop mediation practices in every aspect of Cambridge residents’ lives to prevent the need for police.
DePasquale said in the interview that the task force would “never be about defunding the police department,” but rather focused on the “reallocation of services.”
CPD has already made strides to shift its focus from punishment to rehabilitation, DePasquale said. He cited the police force’s employment of psychiatrists and social workers in addition to traditional officers.
“The Cambridge Police Department is an example of how policing should be done,” he said. “We understand that it’s not just about enforcement. I always say that in Cambridge, we’re not about arrests. We’re about finding help for people. So I think from that point of view, we have really been ahead of the game, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do more.”
However, one of the Cambridge City Councilors calling for the defunding of Cambridge’s police department, Quinton Y. Zondervan, said DePasquale’s emphasis on “reallocation” of funds as opposed to defunding is a “semantic argument.”
“I’m not sure there’s a meaningful distinction,” Zondervan said in an interview. “Defunding the police to me just means reducing the amount of money we spend on policing and allocating money towards other community safety priorities instead.”
Cambridge resident and Harvard Muslim Chaplain Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, one of the task force’s members, wrote in an email that he believes most police confrontations can be handled without the use of force.
“As a Harvard Chaplain, and especially as a Muslim Chaplain with African American Southern roots, I have significant concerns about police use of force, profiling, and the militarization of law enforcement in all communities, and especially communities of color,” Abdur-Rashid wrote.
Abdur-Rashid hopes the task force will promote a progressive style of policing “that specifically takes into consideration the realities of a post-George Floyd Era America, where major problems such as institutional and systemic racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-immigrant sentiments, and hate crimes have unfortunately become more prominent in the last few years.”
The public safety task force will meet virtually twice a month, and is expected to convene for the first time later this month.
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.