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A New Top Cop

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

By Elie G. Kaunfer, Crimson Staff Writer

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.

"In the past, the Chief of Police was not specialized in community policing," Breen says. "They were crime fighters, not proactive. Now we are preventing crime."

Although top-level officers at the department were once apprehensive, it is now easy to find strong supporters of Anderson and his methods throughout the department.

"I've worked under many chiefs, and he is the best," says Breen, who had been with the department for 32 years. "Even at my age I'm learning things from him. We are much more efficient."

Controversy has surrounded Anderson outside the department as well. Cambridge's first commissioner threatened to resign after the city manager pressured him to hire eight recruits with arrest records.

The uproar ended when state officials mandated that the new officers must all come form the "reserve list," officers from other area departments who were previously laid of.

The crisis was averted, and although the issue was rendered moot, Anderson says he believes his standards prevailed.

"This was a victory for the community," Anderson says with a smile. "The strength of the Police Department increased during the whole affair. You can't have pride in a department unless the members have the highest integrity."

And it appears that many Cambridge citizens gave their backing to Anderson during the struggle with the manager's office.

"Everyone I spoke to supported the commissioner," says Noel A. Serpa, a member of the Citizen Advisory Board--a committee which makes recommendations about policies and procedures of the department. "He is trying to bring the best individuals without regard for their political connections."

But Anderson says he foresees more tension with city councillors in the future, in particular Councillor William H. Walsh, whom he "answers to more than others."

"I'm not looking for a honeymoon," Anderson says, a frown replacing the smile. "I have a three year contract. If they don't renew it, I'll move on."

The city has avoided the controversy which plagued police departments throughout the country after the Rodney King verdict and ensuing race riots.

And the Cambridge force may likely have escaped the worst of the backlash because of the positive relationship that Anderson has been able to develop with the community over the past year.

"There was some negative feedback," says Anderson. "But we had police in the schools and attending meetings to temper the mood," Anderson says.

In fact, just one month after Los Angeles erupted, Cambridge citizens held a well-attended parade to salute the department. "This is a phenomenal community," Anderson says. "I've never seen a community adjust to a police department so well."

Many of the 27 programs that Anderson introduced have renewed community members' faith in the police. Anderson has held open houses throughout the community and instructed officers to patrol on foot rather than in the cruisers.

"I still think the police are on our side," says Tanya J. Quayle, an employee at the Tasty Submarine Shop who has lived in Cambridge all her life. "What happened in L.A. was one incident. They're doing a good job here."

Raul E. Osorio, a clerk at Store 24, is optimistic about the increasing visibility of the police. "It makes more sense than sitting in their car," he says. "They will be able to walk off the donuts, and will be able to chase people better."

Even rookie President Neil L. Rudenstine has jumped on the bandwagon of support for the first-year commissioner.

"We are extremely grateful for all you do to make Cambridge a safe place for everyone," Rudenstine wrote in a May 18 letter.

Not all Cambridge residents are pleased with performance, however.

"I feel more safe since the commissioner came here," says Cambridge resident Barbara Burgos. "But [after Rodney King] I don't trust the police as much as I used to."

Detective William H. Phillips Jr., says community policing has boosted morale in the criminal investigations division.

"We are getting more cooperation and information from citizens," he says. "People are giving more details over the telephone."

Anderson says he is far from finished with his changes. He plans to add updated technology to the patrol cars and continue increasing the visibility of the officers.

"We have to form a partnership with the community," he says. "The department is not up to its full potential yet."

As he leans back in his leather chair, Anderson glances out the window overlooking Western Avenue. The street was once one of the most crime-infested areas in Cambridge. Now, with the advent of "park and walk" policing and a respecting community, the street is relatively safe.

And Anderson clearly realizes his contribution to that change.

"This year we've changed the attitude of the community. We've given them a feeling that they are safer now," Anderson says. "Our progress has been phenomenal and we hope the trend will continue."

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