Sunday, July 14, 2024

Cambridge’s Clement G. Morgan Park by Washington and Pine streets was the scene of a shooting Memorial Day, sparking new conversation about surveillance cameras in violence-prone areas. (Photo: Elisha Marshall)

A bid for surveillance cameras in high-crime areas returned to the City Council agenda Monday, a week after a Memorial Day shooting in Area IV that injured one person.

The incident — or incidents, as residents of the area spoke among themselves about a follow-up to the 11:30 p.m. shooting that took place at 2:30 or 3 a.m. on what was technically the next day — took place around Clement G. Morgan Park by Washington and Pine streets. Up to 15 bullets were fired, apparently following an argument, and a group of young men were seen fleeing the area. Police said the shooting victim was taken to a hospital with nonlife-threatening injuries to the neck, and that the shooting took place among people who knew each other, not randomly.

The follow-up “shots” were in fact fireworks, officials said.

That didn’t matter much to Renae Gray, a Columbia Street resident, activist for social justice and one-time council candidate.

“It was the loudest and closest I’ve ever experienced gunshots,” Gray said, referring to the May 30 shooting. “It sounded like they were coming into my house.”

Neither Gray nor other residents of the area — who encouraged referring to it as “The Port” rather than as Area IV and consciously did so themselves — spoke of surveillance cameras; Gray didn’t even want “massive police presence” in light of ongoing gun violence, just a switch in shifts so police could be in the area at key times.

But City Manager Robert W. Healy was responding Monday to a unanimous March 7 request by the council on the feasibility of installing cameras on Clifton Street in North Cambridge, another high-crime area. With the installation of energy- and money-saving LED traffic lights along nearby Rindge Avenue from Sherman Street to Route 16, Healy said it would be efficient to install cameras on the lights at the same time. He wouldn’t take the step of doing so, though, because he knows “the topic has been controversial before.”

Indeed, it has been controversial repeatedly, with councillor Marjorie Decker especially leading the charge of questioning why the city installed several surveillance cameras without council permission (using a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant) and kept them up despite a council order to take them down. In this case, while councillor Craig Kelley acknowledged “it makes sense for us to combine these things,” he also wanted a read on how the council felt about adding cameras to the lights — and Decker complied by saying she was “stunned” it was even being discussed.

“There are a lot of people in the community who have expressed concerns about how the footage would be used,” Decker said, as well as contradictory studies on whether cameras help prevent some kinds of crime.

Mayor David Maher, who spoke in favor of trying cameras in Area IV and North Cambridge because “my belief is that we are hearing people are looking for something different” there, facilitated a vote moving the issue to be taken up at a so-far unscheduled joint meeting of Decker’s public health committee and councillor Denise Simmons’ public safety committee.

A 7 p.m. community meeting Wednesday at the Elks Lodge at 55 Bishop Richard Allen Drive will look at Area IV policing, Healy said, but there has already been a response: an increase in police presence near the park with the moving up of the so-called Park Patrol for summer months.

Simmons and councillor Ken Reeves were exasperated by the response.

“When the weather gets hot, there will be some kind of [violence]. We’ve learned it again and again … and Memorial Day was about the hottest day we’ve had,” Reeves said. “So the connection between it being hot and potential problems should be indelibly ingrained in our system. Rather than the traditional definition of ‘summer,’ we have to act when it is hot.”

Simmons also complained again of a lack of communication from police, including about such violent incidents, and noted that the public didn’t even know how old the victim was.

Healy didn’t have the exact answer, but believed the victim to be in his early 20s.