As Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard, Jr. leaves the department for Johns Hopkins University, Cambridge residents and City Council members recalled a tenure of mixed results.
Bard’s last day is Friday. City Manager Louis A. DePasquale announced Friday that Superintendent Christine Elow would take over as Acting Commissioner beginning Saturday, making her the first woman to head the department in its history.
Cantabrigian and activist Loren Crowe worked closely with Bard on his decision to reduce the department’s weapon inventory by 20 percent and retire the department’s camouflage uniforms. Crowe praised Bard’s leadership in an email.
“Commissioner Bard was the right man for the moment as cities across the country were looking for options to our violence and carceral-based police systems,” Crowe wrote. “A major reason that Cambridge has momentum [to] produce an unarmed alternative response force while so many other cities have lost momentum is that Commissioner Bard chose to use his platform and power to actively move the conversation forward instead of blocking it.”
Bard spearheaded the efforts to demilitarize earlier this year after a turbulent summer for CPD in 2020, with calls from Cambridge residents to demilitarize the police force. In July 2020, CPD published an inventory of all of its supplies which revealed the department owned 64 M4 assault rifles and an armored vehicle.
The inventory release contradicted Bard’s previous claim that CPD did not possess military equipment. He later clarified he meant the department “did not possess materials that are restricted to the military by law.”
Councilor Marc C. McGovern thanked Bard for his service in an email to The Crimson, praising Bard’s efforts to bring “transformative changes to policing” in Cambridge.
“From starting a cadet program to diversify the department, to beginning our own police academy to train our officers in de-escalation, racism in policing and trauma, to banning the use of tear gas, to creating the Office of Procedural Justice to increase transparency and accountability, he has headed transformative changes to policing in our city,” McGovern wrote.
McGovern also acknowledged the department still has work to do beyond Bard’s tenure.
“What I appreciate about Commissioner Bard, is that although he is confident in the CPD, he is not afraid to admit that we are not perfect and that we can and must do better,” he added.
Bard, who will assume the role of vice president for security at JHU, led his department through allegations of police brutality in April 2018, after a Black Harvard undergraduate was tackled and arrested by four CPD officers. Officers alleged that the student had made aggressive moves toward the officers, but bystanders disputed that claim, saying the officers punched the student five times in the stomach without provocation.
Bard defended the officers in a press conference several days after the incident, saying their actions must be judged “within the context of a rapidly evolving situation and not within an ideal construct.” The confrontation drew outrage on campus and nationwide, and the student was ultimately not charged.
Councilor Quinton Y. Zondervan, an outspoken proponent of defunding CPD, wrote in an email that despite his differences with Bard, he appreciated Bard’s willingness to engage.
“While the Commissioner and I did not agree on the role that policing should play in our city, I did appreciate his willingness to engage with the community, hear concerns, and address them within the existing structure of community policing,” Zondervan wrote.
During discussion of a resolution to bid Bard farewell during an Aug. 2 Council meeting, Zondervan said that while he “appreciated” Bard a lot as a person, he did not feel capable of wishing him success in the creation of a brand-new police force at JHU.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui interjected, telling Zondervan he was not speaking to the resolution. Councilor Denise E. Simmons thanked Siddiqui, and McGovern called the interaction “outrageous.” In his emailed statement, Zondervan wrote the Council “failed” to protect his minority opinion during the meeting.
“I have never shied away from sharing important perspectives just because they may be inconvenient, unwelcome, or unpopular with my colleagues. It is so important to protect minority opinions in a democracy, and the council failed to do so at the 8/2 meeting,” he wrote.
Several JHU student organizations, faculty members, and other activists have protested the creation of a private police force, and even conducted a monthlong sit-in in 2019 at JHU’s main administration building, which concluded in seven arrests.
In June 2020, following nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd, the creation of the force was suspended. JHU President Ronald J. Daniels wrote in an email to affiliates that the creation would be paused for “at least two years so that it may benefit from the national re-evaluation of policing in society brought about by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.”
JHU also paused the development of an accountability board that had been in the works for the private police force’s imminent creation.
Last month, the Coalition Against Policing at Hopkins wrote to The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, the University’s student newspaper, that moving forward with Bard’s hire and the formation of the police force was “clearly an abuse of the [two]-year ‘pause’ and the dismantled community advisory board.”
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.