Amid growing concerns over street crime in Central, Harvard and Porter Squares, the Cambridge City Council last night took the city’s executive officials to task for failing to tackle the problem and urged aggressive action.
City Manager Robert W. Healy came under fire as councillors asked him why police leaders had not taken a more active stance against pan-handling, public intoxication and drug use.
The council called for police action earlier this fall and, last night, councillors called again for more aggressive police enforcement and more arrests.
“I want us to have a zero tolerance for criminal acts,” said Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio.
Mayor Michael A. Sullivan said the problem had spilled out of the squares and onto Cantabrigians’ doorsteps.
“People are afraid to be in their own homes,” he said.
Healy said dealing effectively with these problems is hard because police cannot arrest people for pan-handling or public intoxication.
He also defended the city’s existing social programs and characterized the issue as an urban problem without a perfect solution.
“As a municipal government we can’t have all the pills to cure all the ills in society,” he said.
Following the debate, the council referred the item to the Civic Unity Committee for further discussion.
Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, who chairs that committee, disagreed with her colleagues and said the issue should be treated as a social problem, not a criminal one.
She also said the issue needs further discussion before the city takes concrete steps and added she is not sure when the city will take action.
Galluccio also expressed doubts about the possibility of effective short-term action. Careful to say he was directing his comments at police leadership and not rank-and-file officers, Galluccio said the department needs to adopt a fundamental change in policy.
He compared the street crime issue to the problem of truck traffic through the city. At first, when the city moved to curb trucks moving through Cambridge, the department did not see enforcing the regulations as directly their responsibility. Later, though, the department tightened enforcement of the city’s weight limits on trucks—which eventually helped to alleviate the problem.
Galluccio suggested police take a similarly indirect approach to reducing minor crimes such as pan-handling and public intoxication. He advocated adopting tactics used by the New York Police Department, which targets pan-handlers and public drunkards for offenses such as jay-walking and obstructing public walkways.
Galluccio said these minor police stops often reveal outstanding warrants and lead to arrests.
“If you can clean up New York City, we can clean up Cambridge,” he said.
—Staff writer Christopher M. Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.