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The Cambridge City Council Can Do Better On Police Reform

By Jacqueline S. Chea
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

A few weeks ago, the Cambridge City Council approved plans for a new records management system that collects police activity and makes local traffic stop data available to the public through an online dashboard. This move is, no doubt, a response to the summer protests over the killings of George Floyd, Jacob Blake, and Breonna Taylor, when calls for major changes to policing rang out in streets and squares across the country. And yet we’re still waiting for the deep, structural reforms necessary for real progress.

We cannot celebrate this resolution as a victory in any meaningful sense. The information the public will find on the dashboard is unlikely to be illuminating. We already have the facts. We already know the problems. Racial biases are pervasive in the policing system, and Black and Latino men are far more likely to be pulled over on the road. Transparency is important, but it’s not a move toward true accountability; and even then, racist policing cannot be solved simply by holding “bad apples” accountable.

A framework that only considers cops as atomized actors fails to acknowledge the fact that racism is tightly woven into the entire system of policing. Suspending or convicting individual officers cannot and will not tear out the racist roots of police forces. Reform needs to strike at the fundamental structure of police departments — it requires us to rethink how we want our society to operate.

In addition, we are apprehensive about the growing reliance on data and technology in police departments across the country — a move that often accompanies or contributes to enhanced surveillance policies that violate privacy and free speech rights, increase the rate of false positives, and reinforce racial biases. Though the new records management system hopes to alleviate racial injustice and are seemingly well-intentioned, we hope the Cambridge Police Department does not use this data-driven approach to evaluate itself in its policing of Cantabrigians. That will not deliver a complete or nuanced picture.

If the Cambridge City Council wants to take action against injustice, we strongly urge it to significantly defund the police department and divert funds to measures that could have a much greater impact on public utility and welfare. The current allocation does not best serve the people of Cambridge. For example, alongside a new records system, the council adopted a second motion that commits them to between 40 and 45 new housing vouchers for Cambridge residents experiencing homelessness. More funds should have been allocated here and to programs that seek to directly help those who need it most.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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