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City Looks to Shake Things up at Police HQ

The Cambridge Police

By Michael P. Mann

The new chief won't be the only new face at the Cambridge Police Department next year if City Manager Robert W. Healy has his way.

Although the current chief, Anthony G. Paolillo, will be replaced after his retirement next year, Healy would also like to create an entirely new leadership position within the department, that of police commissioner.

And while Healy's proposal faces opposition from local conservatives, it enjoys much support from the progressive City Council.

"In the '90s, what an urban police force is required to do is more complicated than in the '40s or '50s," says Vice Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, who supports the creation of the new post.

"You need a police department that can work with schools and neighborhoods, and it is impossible for a police chief alone to do all that," agrees Noah Berger '89, executive director of the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA).

But the rationale for creating me new post goes beyond public safety. Although supporters of the measure say they are primarily concerned with the rise of violent crime in the Boston area, they also say the police department's leadership simply needs some new blood.

"I think there is also a current degree of dysfunction in the department in that those who are running the operation are not in touch with the community," says Reeves, who characterizes the department's heirarchy as "something of an old-boy network."

Because the promotion system is regulated by state law, the only way of shaking up the department is to appoint someone from outside into a leadership position, Reeves says. "It is the one way I know of to better organize and run a modern department when we really need effectiveness."

Expected Resistance

But the move to appoint a police commissioner will undoubtedly face stiff resistence from Independent Councillor William H. Walsh, who says he will move to strike the post from the city budget.

If that fails, Walsh says, he will take legal action against the city.

Since 1977, Cambridge law has allowed for the appointment of a police commissioner. The post, however, has never been filled, and Walsh says he believes it conflicts with the city charter.

So if Healy appoints a police commissioner, Walsh says he will initiate a so-called taxpayer's suit against the city, to keep the Council from including the position in the budget.

"The statute has been on the books for 14 years, and the reason it hasn't been used is because it hasn't been needed," Walsh says. "Why aren't we better off with three or four more beat police on the streets?"

Walsh also says the position will be unnecessarily costly. Last Monday, Healy estimated that a police commissioner would cost the city an additional $100,000 each year.

But supporters of the post say that the costs will be recouped by more effective law enforcement. "It's really a small amount of money," says Berger. "Something that comes out to be about a dollar per person in Cambridge is not a lot to pay to improve public safety."

"This is one of those few areas where we will get more impact out of the dollars we spend," agrees Reeves.

Supporters of the new appointment, however, cite one additional benefit: selecting a commissioner would give the city an opportunity to promote its affirmative action policy.

"The department heads are almost all white men," says Berger. "I think we would be very disappointed if the city did not make every effort to find a qualified minority candidate."

But once the City Council approves the commissioner as a budget item, complete discretion over whom to appoint goes to Healy.

"Not all of the department heads in the city are white males," says Richard C. Rossi, deputy city manager. "But we would certainly welcome the opportunity to appoint minorities. It is a goal of the city manager's to appoint minority department heads when he can."

In any case, the process won't begin for some time. The post must first survive the budget hearings held next week. And according to Rossi, the city manager will not begin interviewing candidates until September.

"No one has been interviewed; he has no one in mind. The process is entirely open," says Rossi.

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