Tuesday, July 23, 2024

My heart goes out to those who have been victims of racial injustice, and I am aware that there are many police departments in need of reform. But I write in defense of the Cambridge Police Department, which, while imperfect, really strives to do the right thing. As many of you know, it is a national model for its Safety Net Program and works in support of our most vulnerable populations, particularly those who are homeless and/or struggling with substance use disorders. It as also gotten kudos for work done around procedural justice, police legitimacy and fair and impartial policing. Just listen to police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. speak Wednesday on WGBH about policing.

As a co-organizer of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Group (1999-2001, organizing crime walks with the police) and longtime member of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association board, I have worked closely with the police for more than 20 years. I was on its Leadership Council in 2001; got three CPD community grants for local street parties (2000-2002); have ridden along with homeless outreach officer Eric Helberg; and have spoken with and heard speeches by Bard and superintendent Christine Elow. I also participate in meetings with police officers at Central Square Advisory Committee meetings.

Having said that, I have long questioned why we need a police force of more than 300 for a city of 120,000 with minimal crime, and why we need mandatory (and expensive) police construction details. I’ve wondered why the police need to have their own social workers (paid much more than regular social workers) rather than working in collaboration with other human service providers or other departments. I’d like to hear a response to these concerns, though – rather than blindly lobby to defund or dismantle.

After the defund protests at City Hall, my husband and I were at Central Square, where we were among the few there not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. (There seemed to be little police presence there, probably in response to protests.) It was wild. Inebriated people were screaming and cursing at one other from across the street. Do we really want the police disbanded?

We need police presence to preserve order and to demand, in a sensitive way, that laws be obeyed for the sake of a safe and civil society.

All police departments are not alike, and not all police are alike. In the heat of the moment, when there is a general outcry against policing, let’s not target and dismantle something that’s basically working well: our police department. Instead, let’s commit to improving it, and let’s respect and appreciate its work. I know it may sound cliche, but officers do put their lives on the line for us each day.

Aristotle wrote: “No democracy can exist unless each of its citizens is as capable of outrage at injustice to another as he is of outrage at injustice to himself.” That is the beauty of this difficult, much needed conversation about policing – inspired by outrage!

Cathie Zusy, Hamilton Street