Status of City Group to Watch Police Remains Uncertain After Two Years
More than two years after its creation, Cambridge's civilian police review board still is not functioning as the watchdog of this town's controversial police department, members of the City Council charged this week.
Technically, the five member-board--the only one of its kind in New England--has the authority to review citizen complaints about police wrongdoings and to investigate harassment charges. But because of bureaucratic obstacles--which local legislators attribute to a reluctant city manager--the committee has met only once since the city council approved it in 1984.
At present, the civilian review board is absent one member who recently resigned, and lacks an executive secretary, a support staff and an investigating officer. During the last fiscal year, the council budgeted $66,240 a year for the board.
Of the five city residents appointed by City Manager Robert W. Healy, one, the Rev. Jose Ferreira of St. Anthony's Parish in East Cambridge, has already stepped down, saying the board would occupy too much time.
"The city manager has managed to stall and stall and stall on the appointments and activities of the (board)," said State Rep. and City Councilor Saundra Graham, who sponsored the resolution creating the board.
"This issue has been problematic for the city manager because he is under pressure from the chief of police and others who do not want it implemented," she said. At the time of its creation, the board evoked strong protest from Cambridge Police Chief Anthony G. Paolillo and members of the policemen's union, who claimed that such a board would damage department morale.
The board is empowered by law to make recommendations to the city manager, but cannot take action against police officers without his approval.
Paolillo and Healy were unavailable for comment.
The board was created in 1984, following a year-long debate over the police department's response to a New Year's Eve mugging of a white youth by a group of Blacks. Graham and local residents accused the police of a "round-up of all the black children" in the area.
Officers "grabbed every Black kid they could find, and parents were extremely shocked and upset" by it, said Graham.
"The Black youths were picked up by the police and were harassed or physically assulted on the basis of their race," said Jack Martinelli, president ofthe Cambridge Civic Association (CCA). "A group ofparents then got together and formed CommunitiesActing Together, which requested a civilian reviewboard" to investigate alleged abuses and othercomplaints, Martinelli said.
The review board has met informally only once,and at that meeting only two of the four membersshowed up, so no issues or complaints wereresolved, said Graham.
City Councilor David E. Sullivan alsocriticized the slow process by which the citymanager filled the board. "Members were not chosenuntil a civilian review board had beenestablished, and the appointments were not verygood," Sullivan said last week.
"There is only one minority on the board--aBlack woman, and four white males," said Graham."This is certainly not a good representation agood representation of the community at all," shesaid.
Cambridge lawmakers say they are currentlydiscussing and urging the city manager to actquickly, but it is unknown when the remainingappointments will be made.
"There are some people who feel that thecivilian police review board could potentiallyinterfere with the function and operation of thepolice force," Graham said last week. "But therehas been ample opportunity for the police to servethe community properly, and they have not."
"It is important to have an objective boardwhere citizens can compain; they need to have analternative, another forum where problems can beexpressed," said Graham.
"The CCA supports this board, and we would liketo see the vacancy filled and the positionsappointed as soon as possible so the board cancarry out its legislative function," saidMartinelli. "But it is not likely that all theproblems will be resolved soon."
"Complaints from residents about the policedepartment come up from time to time, varying inintensity," said City Councilor Alice K. Wolf,another member of the CCA. "And there is a needfor an overseeing policy of the policedepartment."
"The [board] exists on paper but not inreality," said Sullivan. "For the citizen who getsbeaten up and harassed at this point, it may aswell not exist at all.