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Post-Faisal Report Recommends Cambridge Police Create Special Investigative Body

A Cambridge police car on the road. The Police Executive Research Forum recommended the Cambridge Police Department establish an investigative body.
A Cambridge police car on the road. The Police Executive Research Forum recommended the Cambridge Police Department establish an investigative body. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

The Police Executive Research Forum recommended the Cambridge Police Department establish “a special investigative body” and have police respond to some calls jointly with mental health professionals in a report following the police killing of 20-year-old Sayed Faisal.

The report comes more than one year after CPD Officer Liam McMahon fatally shot Faisal while responding to a medical call, triggering widespread protests throughout Cambridge. McMahon shot Faisal after he refused to drop a knife he was using to cut himself, according to a CPD press release at the time.

PERF, an independent research organization, wrote that the department could “greatly strengthen the quality and thoroughness of its administrative reviews by creating a special investigative body responsible for the administrative investigation of any serious incident involving a CPD member or members.”

“The focus of this body,” the report wrote, “would be to identify lessons that can be incorporated into officer training, gaps in tactics, the need for additional equipment, and policies that should be changed or updated.”

The group’s recommendations also included enhancing CPD’s deescalation training, updating use-of-force force policies, increasing use of less-lethal equipment options, and utilizing after-incident assessment practices.

PERF wrote that the department’s lack of body cameras “leaves an unfortunate void in terms of the shooting and what happened in the seconds that immediately preceded it,” but wrote they “commend” CPD’s ongoing efforts to implement the technology.

The PERF report also recommends the implementation of a “co-response system” for “certain types” of mental-health calls. This would entail CPD Officers working in conjunction with mental health professionals to respond to relevant calls.

“Regardless of whether it could have impacted the outcome here, this incident underscores that Cambridge lacks such a program; this is significant in such a forward thinking, progressive city,” the report stated.

The Cambridge Safety Department is set to launch an unarmed emergency response team in March to respond to mental health cases and provide a non-police alternative to emergency situations. The City is also working to secure a contract with the Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team, although negotiations have recently stalled.

The PERF assessment was requested by City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 and CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow to “use the incident as an opportunity to learn and, hopefully, prevent similar tragedies in the future,” according to the report.

Huang sent the report on Thursday to the Cambridge City Council, which will discuss it at its upcoming Monday meeting.

The report’s recommendations cited the need to examine the department’s response to mental health crises, highlighting the importance of enhancing deescalation training in the department.

One specific recommendation includes revising the definition of deescalation based on best practices at other departments.

“Examples include active listening, calm and respectful communication, maintaining space and distance, non-threatening body language, patience, offering options and choices, lowering the intensity of the law enforcement presence (lights, sirens, personnel), calling for additional resources, and establishing trust and rapport,” the report stated.

“Overall, PERF found CPD’s policies to be strong, but found opportunities to strengthen them,” the report stated. “Once these policies are modified, CPD should present them to all officers and then incorporate their principles into future training modules related to UOF.”

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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