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Cambridge Police Disproportionately Arresting Black People at Highest Rate in 13 Years, New Database Shows

In the first half of 2023, more than half of arrests made by Cambridge police were of Black people.
In the first half of 2023, more than half of arrests made by Cambridge police were of Black people. By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen
By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen and Yusuf S. Mian, Crimson Staff Writers

More than 50 percent of arrests made by the Cambridge Police Department in the first half of 2023 were of Black people — the highest proportion in at least 13 years, a newly released data set by the city reveals.

According to the dashboard, 50.9 percent of those arrested this year as of June self-identified as Black — up from 48.5 percent in 2022. Over the 13-year period displayed in the dashboard, 39.3 percent of people arrested were Black. By comparison, Black residents make up 10.7 percent of Cambridge’s population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow acknowledged this disparity in an Aug. 30 webinar introducing the dashboard, which she said “concerns her.”

“That’s something that I really want some more information on about what’s going on there,” Elow added.

Though the proportion of Black people arrested was higher in the first half of the year, the total number of Black people arrested is on pace to decrease from previous years, with 145 arrests as of June — compared to 560 in 2010 and 314 in 2022.

This mirrors the trend for total yearly arrests, which have fallen substantially over the last decade, from 1,450 in 2010 to 648 in 2022 and just 285 in 2023 as of June. The number of yearly summons has slightly increased, from 397 in 2010 to 475 in 2023 as of June.

Elow called this drop “encouraging” and credited it to changes in department practices.

“We moved away from real traditional law enforcement practices when it came to how we respond to calls for service in our community,” Elow said. “We really wanted to shift away from arrests, which was our primary way of engaging when a law was broken, to more how do we solve root causes of crime.”

The dashboard also displays CPD’s yearly use of force report for 2022. The report shows that 65 percent of use-of-force incidents involved Black and Hispanic individuals, an increase from 53 percent in 2021 and 58 percent in 2020.

The department introduced the procedural justice dashboard last month in an effort to increase transparency around police interactions, in line with Elow’s public commitments to greater accountability. The dashboard includes information on arrests, citations, and summons issued by CPD from 2010 onwards and will be updated quarterly.

Users can filter the data by race, ethnicity, neighborhood, gender, and time period. Its site also includes pages for its annual use of force report, the definitions used throughout the dashboard, including terms such as “automobile law violation” and “scheduled assessment,” and a feedback and contact form.

“Trust and respect are rooted in transparency and accountability. This includes making reliable data available quickly to our community, so residents can better understand how we police in the community,” Elow, the CPD commissioner, wrote in an introductory statement accompanying the dashboard. “The introduction of this latest dashboard begins to take a deeper dive into two of the biggest issues that can create barriers to community trust of law enforcement: race and transparency.”

CPD has partnered with the Center for Policing Equity to “help the department identify or address any potential vulnerabilities or disparities from the data featured in the dashboard and develop harm reduction strategies,” according to an Aug. 15 press release.

CPD has been under increased scrutiny this year after an officer shot and killed a 20-year-old Bangladeshi American college student, Sayed Faisal, in Cambridgeport on Jan. 4. Faisal’s death has sparked more than a dozen local protests — including occupations of Cambridge City Hall — against alleged racism and brutality by CPD.

At the Aug. 30 panel introducing the dashboard, Elow said the goal of the dashboard — which the department has been working on for the past two years — is to “give the public deeper insight into the Cambridge Police Department and also for us to take a deeper look at ourselves.”

During the webinar, Elow said she was “proud of ourselves” for having reached the end of this “really huge, complex undertaking.”

“We really don’t think there’s another dashboard in the state that provides this level of detail,” she said.

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at Follow him on X @ryandoannguyen.

—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at Follow him on X @yusuf_mian2.

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