Cambridge Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson and City Manager Robert W. Healy have announced that the Cambridge Police Department plans actively to recruit gay and lesbian police officers.
With the exam registration deadline approaching Feb. 21, the department is forging alliances with local gay and lesbian support groups to forward the success of the program.
"We want the gay and lesbian community to know that they are welcome at the Cambridge Police Department," said Frank T. Pasquarello, an aide to the commissioner.
"It's not whether you're gay or straight, but whether you can do the job," he added.
Pasquarello said the announcement was generated by meetings Watson held with the local Lavender Alliance and other gay and lesbian groups in the area.
"There are few jobs in public service that have as much opportunity to affect the quality of life in a community as being a police officer," wrote Watson in a Jan. 31 news release.
"In order to serve our entire community to the best of our ability, it is important that our police department reflect that community," he said.
Watson, who was appointed commissioner in early July, after serving as deputy police chief in Chicago, has set increased community policing efforts--including a more diverse force--as his goal for the department.
Pasquarello said the announcement is only part of the larger Cambridge community policing project.
"It's part of the community policing strategy that emphasizes including everyone," Pasquarello said. "If there are gay and lesbian groups that feel they are not being fairly represented, we want to address that."
Community leaders say the program is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to ensure fair treatment of gays and lesbians by police and other government officials.
"It's a significant step, but it's only the beginning of a turnaround in the internal climate [of the department]," said local gay-rights activist Chuck Colbert.
Colbert suggested that the police department create a liaison to the gay community, similar to one at the Boston Police Department who connects and informs both groups about mutual concerns.
While police departments have a checkered past in terms of dealing with gays and lesbians--police raids such as Stonewall formed the historic core of the gay-rights movement--Colbert noted that the times are changing.
He cited the 1993 Rand Corp. report which examined the treatment of gays and lesbians in police departments and the military as evidence that police departments have been paving the way for fair treatment of gays and lesbians in recent years.
"Police departments have been trailblazers," Colbert said, "But in Cambridge, you still have a huge gay population and no out officers on the force. I think there's a gap there."
Pasquarello said the department intends to have a liaison, but a specific officers has yet to be selected. He also stressed that the announcement has provoked calls of encouragement from as far as Fort Myers, Fla. and that several individuals have already responded.
Colbert said that not only will the community and potential officers benefit from the announcement, so will closeted cops already on the Cambridge police force.
"We hear that there are gays already on the force, and maybe this [initiative] will create an environment in which they feel more comfortable," he said.
Pasquarello agreed, taking an optimistic look to the future.
"Now that we have addressed the problem, hopefully other [closeted] officers will feel more comfortable coming out," he said.