Report on Skip Gates Arrest Brushes Over Race Issue

The Cambridge Review Committee released today its final report analyzing the controversial arrest of Professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr., providing broad recommendations to bridge the perceived communicative gap between the police force and Cambridge community, while brushing over the race issue.

The 60-page document entitled "Missed Opportunities, Shared Responsibilities" details the July 16, 2009 encounter between Gates and arresting officer Sergeant James Crowley, and the ensuing national discussion about procedural justice. Pinning the blame for the incident on misunderstanding between both parties, the report concluded that thoughtful communication between Gates and Crowley would have better resolved the conflict.

Despite the national attention devoted to the issue of racial bias on the part of the Cambridge Police Department in the aftermath of Gates’ arrest, the committee notably only briefly mentions the question of race throughout the report.

The final page of the report, labeled "Appendix E," cites a Columbia University Business School study conducted a year before Gates' arrest examining "whether Cambridge police officers exhibit racial bias in their decisions to fire weapons under stress." But no clear conclusions are drawn about racial biases and no connections are made with the Gates' arrest incident.

Acknowledging that the arrest was “not a success in terms of police-community relations,” the report stated that both men “missed” the different opportunities to “de-escalate” the encounter. For example, Gates could have taken Crowley’s perspective of the situation and spoken respectfully to Crowley, and the officer could have better explained his reasoning for the arrest.

"The Cambridge Review Committee believes that the July 16th incident was avoidable," the report stated. "Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates each missed opportunities to 'ratchet down' the situation and end it peacefully."

The report stated that the biggest disparity between the accounts provided by Crowley and Gates—“Two well-regarded people…one white, one black; one an experienced and well-trained police sergeant, one an eminent scholar”—could be found in their respective interpretations of the July 16th event, signaling the need for more effective communication.

“[E]xploring differing perspectives is critical to effective policing,” the report stated. “If residents do not support a police action or policy, the police must learn the reason why.”

In discussing the concept of “procedural justice” in relation to law enforcement officers’ treatment of individuals, the report stated that research shows people’s feelings about a police encounter depend significantly on whether they felt the officer displayed respect and courtesy

In further emphasis on the need for heightened communication, the report stated that the July 16th incident highlighted the need for “community education about the role and the limitations of the police,” and “swift and reliable communication between city leaders and the public.”

Among its recommendations for better community and police involvement, the report called for educating police officers in effective techniques for de-escalating conflicts, and for a series of community forums convened by the Cambridge Police Department.

With the Cambridge Police Department facing increased scrutiny in light of the Gates arrest, CPD Commissioner Robert Haas called for a study to identify the “lessons to be learned” from the incident. The result was the September 2009 formation of the Cambridge Review Committee, a panel of 12 academics and law enforcement personnel selected for expertise in issues like policing, community relations, race, and conflict behavior, as well as the City of Cambridge.

The committee was charged with generating recommendations regarding police training, department procedures, and the role of race and class in policing—particularly significant given the nationwide accusations of racial bias on the part of the CPD in the arrest of Gates, who is African-American.

The committee finally publicized its report—which is dated June 15—after mounting uncertainty regarding its release date. In a March 1 “progress report,” the committee stated that a final report would be issued in the late spring, but even as late as mid-June, the CPD said that it was unaware of any release date for the report.

On Friday, the CPD announced that the final report would be released today and presented at a press conference in the afternoon.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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