Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Police Review and Advisory Board, Cambridge’s citizen-staffed oversight board, takes questions during a February meeting about the July 16 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. The board’s report on the topic was released Wednesday. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Cambridge’s citizen police oversight board has issued its report on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. — only two hours after the Wednesday press conference for the release of the Cambridge Review Committee’s report on the same topic.

The full report can be downloaded as a PDF here.

“Without evidence directly contradicting Sgt. [James] Crowley’s account that professor Gates was exhibiting tumultuous behavior that was causing alarm among the public gathered, it is impossible for PRAB to make a conclusive statement that the arrest was unlawful,” wrote the oversight board, referring to itself — the Police Review and Advisory Board.

“Further, PRAB believes that First Amendment issues are more appropriately addressed in a court,” the board said.

Crowley went to Gates’ home on a 911 call of a potential break-in, but after he determined Gates was the legal occupant of the house and alone inside it, he arrested Gates, according to his arrest report, for “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public place [that] served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed.”

The board looked into the issue based on three complaints it got after the July 16 arrest, which set off a firestorm of debate over issues of race- and police power. But its months-long lack of an executive director or secretary and fifth citizen member, both needing appointment by City Manager Robert W. Healy, kept the panel on the sidelines — as did Healy’s creation with Police Commissioner Robert Haas of the separate, 12-member committee that produced the larger of Wednesday’s reports.

Among the committee’s 10 recommendations for Cambridge and other communities is the creation of a Police Commissioner’s Advisory Board from members of the community. Some of the stated goals of the board could be accomplished from within PRAB, but the board went unmentioned in the committee’s 60-page document.

The board’s own report, dated for release Monday, is more concise. It uses only two pages, including five recommendations.

The first three involve incidents such as the Gates arrest, in which Crowley made an arrest for disorderly conduct using police “discretion” that can sometimes result in an arrest and sometimes allow a suspect to go free:

  • An emphasis on civilian’s First Amendment rights should be included in police training.
  • The Cambridge Police Department should monitor and investigate incidents involving disorderly conduct where the only victim is a police officer, even if there isn’t a formal complaint filed.
  • The department should hold a public meeting about arrests involving disorderly conduct.

The final recommendations involve the board itself:

  • The board should be allowed to review and comment on changes in police policies.
  • The department should encourage people to use the board’s complaint process.

To arrive at these conclusions, board members read over documents including police reports and witness statements from July 16 as well as police-provided information about arrests for disorderly conduct. The report says board members and staff also interviewed Haas and Crowley, but were met with silence when asking Gates to sit for an interview.