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Cambridge Police Will Add Office to Monitor Racial Bias, Use of Force

By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: April 24, 2018 at 5:25 a.m.

The Cambridge Police Department will add a new office to monitor use of force and racial bias in officers’ interaction with citizens, according to a proposed Cambridge budget for fiscal year 2019.

The addition comes in the wake of a confrontation between Cambridge Police and a black Harvard undergraduate on April 13 that has sparked allegations of police brutality and generated national headlines. City officials, though, said they had been considering procedural justice initiatives—which focus on police interactions with the public—prior to the incident.

Through the new office, which will be called the Office of Procedural Justice, CPD hopes to show a commitment to transparency and responsibility by analyzing citizens’ confrontations with the police, according to the proposed budget.

“Believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, the Office of Procedural Justice will focus on proactively monitoring data related to police-citizen interactions for indications of possible racial profiling, racially-biased policing, or use of force incidents,” the budget reads. “The Office will also assess the Department’s compliance with statutes, ordinances, and regulations aimed at mandating accountability.”

The procedural justice initiatives are an attempt to maintain officer accountability, according to Councillor Alanna M. Mallon. Mallon said city officials have particularly focused on procedural justice in light of the arrest of the undergraduate earlier this month.

“I know many of us are really thinking about this recently,” Mallon said. “But [procedural justice] has been something that has been in the works for a long time, and I look forward to really seeing that come to fruition.”

The arrest of the undergraduate—who was naked and likely under the influence of narcotics—at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Waterhouse Street April 13 has roiled campus. CPD officers involved tackled the undergraduate to the ground before arresting him, a move a later CPD police report asserts was necessary because the student had clenched his fists and made aggressive moves toward law enforcement. But eyewitnesses have called CPD's version of events "incorrect" and have stated the officers acted "without provocation."

A video of the incident later published by the New York Times shows the student standing still surrounded by four officers while the officers talk to him briefly. The student turns around and takes two steps towards one officer before taking a step back and raising his arms to chest-level. Another officer then tackles the student from behind.

While the student remained on the ground, one CPD officer punched the undergraduate in the stomach five times in an “ineffective” attempt to unpin the student’s arms and handcuff him, according to the CPD police report. The student was ultimately arrested on charges including indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, and assault.

CPD Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said at a press conference last week that the student’s arraignment has been delayed in part due to concerns about the undergraduate’s mental health.

In the weeks following the arrest, Harvard students formed a new activist group meant to hold Harvard accountable for its students' safety—particularly the safety of "Black and Brown students," according to the group's mission statement. The organization, dubbed Black Students Organizing for Change, held a protest against police brutality Saturday.

CPD also will create a new Family and Social Justice Section in the coming fiscal year to better serve “the city’s most vulnerable populations,” according to the proposed budget. These populations include children, senior citizens, and those afflicted by homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, or sexual assault.

“The new section will bring together various units that individually work to provide services that divert individuals away from the criminal justice system and toward the support services they need, reinforcing the human dimension of social justice,” the budget reads.

As a part of the department reorganization, CPD will also add six new positions comprising “one Deputy Superintendent, one child psychologist, one licensed social worker, and three additional patrol officers.”

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

—Staff writer Patricia J. Liu contributed reporting to this story.

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