Thursday, May 23, 2024

A police cruiser stops at a May coronavirus test for the homeless in Central Square. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Police unions are awful everywhere, and Cambridge’s wants in on the action. With its fear mongering and, some might say, rather extortionate-sounding warning of a murderous “purge” that would result from a statewide reform bill, the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association inflamed worries last week about the workers it represents. It’s the worst possible time.

And though it deleted the most inflammatory language, the union “apology” that followed was mealy-mouthed in the extreme, actually trying to cast blame instead of taking responsibility, and incoherent, even going so far as to say that neither it nor any employee wrote the passage that was deleted – whatever that means. Who’s in charge of rallying the effort to get state senators to back down from police reforms? The intern?

It was just one example of the work that needs to be done in Cambridge around what is probably still one of the best police departments in the country (with readers getting to decide for themselves how meaningful that is).

The nationwide “defund the police” effort – which to some is an effort to abolish police but for most aims to demilitarize departments and return funding to social services that police have supplanted – got a good example of its own this past week in Cambridgeport. Police, fire and ambulance workers gathered to handle a woman’s sudden death, with a half-dozen officers clustering around the woman’s distraught young son to keep him from disturbing a brief investigation into whether the death was suspicious. (It was not.)

It seems like a role that could have been played by a single person trained to talk with people who are grieving, rather than a group of armed officers who – through no fault of their own, necessarily – escalate fear and tension by their very presence. To hear the effect they’re having on someone who simply wants to see his mom, just watch the widely available 20-minute video captured of the interaction. (As is common these days, the video was taken at the request of the person who is surrounded by police.) The kid is panicked that the situation will turn violent for no reason, as literally countless such innocent encounters have over the past decades in America, if not the past centuries. Of course he was worried: The police handcuffed him for no reason he could understand, since he was suspected of no crime.

When situations go bad because of police actions, it is common for officers to claim they acted out of fear. But it couldn’t be more obvious that it is now the presence of police that provokes or panics, causing the rising adrenaline and anxiety that makes situations go bad.

At the very, very least, police of good intentions everywhere have to welcome reforms that would help them figure out a simple task, whether they’re trying to lobby for their industry or help a mourning family: How to stop making things worse.