Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Cambridge’s Combined Emergency Communications and 911 Center in the Robert W. Healy Public Safety Facility. (Photo: City of Cambridge)

The long-awaited Procedural Justice Dashboard that’s supposed to give the public a picture of how Cambridge police treat people of different races and ethnicities still has no hard and fast arrival date. Now police are looking for a consultant to analyze data on traffic stops to “tell us what it means,” Police Chief Christine Elow said Wednesday.

Elow told members of the Police Review and Advisory Board that she’s leaning toward posting the dashboard before the analysis but didn’t give a definite decision. “I hope we can have something for the public to digest this summer,” she said.

She said finding a consultant was difficult, hinting that there were privacy issues with working with the police data. The city’s purchasing office issued a request for proposals Feb. 16 for “Arrest, Summons and Traffic Citation Analysis” that was due March 9, but immediately postponed the due date indefinitely.

Police department spokesperson Jeremy Warnick declined to answer questions about details of the dashboard plans, saying police plan to submit them in late April or early May at the earliest  in answer to a policy order from the City Council.

Former police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. created an Office of Procedural Justice and proposed the dashboard in 2018, saying it would make Cambridge more transparent than any other community about racial and ethnic disparities in police treatment. But technical problems soon arose with the department’s traffic stop data, resulting in a request to buy new software and remake the department’s data collection system in March 2020.

In October 2020 the administration asked for $921,062 for the software and councillors approved it but months later they still couldn’t get a firm date for the arrival of the dashboard.

Fast forward to last June: The department had encountered “unforeseen challenges” creating a new data collection system with the software vendor and was now planning to use the existing department system to create the dashboard, Warnick said in an email. At the same time, police were developing an analysis and working on “partnering with a nonprofit organization to measure how our results compare with other departments around the country,” he said.

After that’s done, the department planned to disclose the data to employees, he said, to help them “understand this information, what it encompasses and where we are going next.”

“Once those steps are completed, the community will have full access to the information and will be encouraged to join CPD in looking critically at the department’s data and better understand our interactions,” Warnick said.

It’s not known if police plan the same steps before posting the dashboard now. Also unknown is what information will be posted. For months, the department website included a sample dashboard that displayed no data, only a hypothetical “score” that compared Cambridge performance to a perfect grade in which white and non-white residents were treated equally.

Now there’s no sample, only a promise under the “Procedural Justice Dashboard” title: “Coming soon!”