A New Top Cop

The City's New Police Commisioner Aims To Create a True Community Department

Cambridge Police Commissioner Perry L. Anderson Jr. was billed as an innovative reformer when he arrived last May. And as Anderson celebrates his one-year anniversary leading the force, many Cantabrigians can't believe this is the same department that patrolled the streets in 1990.

It has been a year of "drasticchanges," according to Anderson.

The commissioner's often turbulent tenure has included a bout with the city manager and City Council over new recruits with arrest records, a restructuring of the department to put more officers on the street and a return to old-fashioned community policing with the creation of a Citizen Advisory Board.

When Anderson arrived in Cambridge he became the first commissioner in the city's history to preside over the police force. Prior to Anderson's appointment, the department was led by a chief promoted from within the department.

In 1990 the City Council voted to hire a commissioner in order to bring in new blood from outside. Anderson was hired out of Miami because of management skills and his experience in community policing--things that city officials maintained were lacking in Cambridge last year.


"The department was stagnant when I arrived," Anderson says. "The old system did not encourage management to seek other avenues to run the department properly."

The commissioner is eager to talk about "the new" Cambridge police department and his soothing voice and claim demeanor have a way to assuaging fears observers have of trouble in the department.

Anderson is not afraid to point out the flaws in the department before he arrived. He criticizes the old management without mincing his words, or doubting his assertions.

The commissioner's self-confidence is evident in a press release entitled "Summary of Accomplishments." The list ranges from number one, departmental reorganization, to number 27, a new program to give stolen bicycles to needy children at Christmas.

But while no one objects to giving away bicycles, Anderson's departmental restructuring caused veteran officers to question their new leader.

After he reorganized the department by creating a controversial management team consisting of two superintendents and four deputy supervisors, police officials were dismayed by the departure from traditional promotion procedures.

The move represented a change from the standard civil service method of promotions based on test scores rather than quality. "They used to be locked in," Anderson says. "But now the six are appointed by merit, productivity, and managerial know how. We scrutinize the officers' performance very carefully now."

Anderson says the resistance to the restructuring arose in the early part of the year and died down after the uncertainty surrounding the new leader dissipated.

"The officers recognized that these changes are for the betterment of the community and the department," Anderson says. "They were wondering, 'Is he just another minority being brought in?' Now they see there is real leadership here."

Capt. Henry W. Breen, the senior member of the department, admits that the staff was fearful of the leadership change last May. But Breen says the department has realized that Anderson is an effective manger.