Friday, July 12, 2024

Activists in Atlanta rally March 9 against a planned police and fire training complex known as Cop City. (Photo: Felton Davis via Flickr)

The Cambridge Police Department is on notice that city councillors would object to them going to a proposed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center – also known as “Cop City” – that they consider tainted politically and environmentally.

The motion was a resolution expressing an opinion, not an order, but drew plenty of public comment and then city councillor debate over two weeks. The first version by councillor Quinton Zondervan passed without comment or a formal vote Sept. 11 saying that Cambridge police should not participate at the center “or any similar facilities in any way”; councillor E. Denise Simmons brought the motion back Monday for reconsideration to remove that phrase.

“I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of public safety experts who suggested the language contained in this order may be overly restrictive and could potentially box the Cambridge police and the city in as they face future challenges,” Simmons said. “We appear to be prohibiting the police commissioner or future commissioners and city manager from expressing or exercising their best judgment on what may be needed to train our department to best serve our community.”

Almost all public speakers wanted the order voted through without amendment, expressing disgust with a $90 million project that will deforest around 85 acres of urban woods and where protests have led to violence. “It’s not about thorough training, it’s about further militarizing our police force and providing them with tools to further harm us,” said Emma Roth of Wendell Street, calling the project – which has drawn complaints of ignoring democratic norms and prosecuting protest as a crime – “fundamentally tied up in voter disenfranchisement, police brutality and continued climate devastation.” Only one speaker, a City Council candidate named Carrie Pasquarello who owns a security consultancy, opposed Zondervan’s motion. “Training is what keeps our community safer,” Pasquarello said.

Simmons’ amendment passed 5-4, with Simmons and councillors Dennis Carlone, Marc McGovern, Patty Nolan and Paul Toner in favor and Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, vice mayor Alanna Mallon and councillors Zondervan and Burhan Azeem opposed. The amended resolution passed 6-1-2. The vote against was Toner. The members abstaining from the final vote and saying only that they were “present” were Carlone and Simmons.

The two weeks of public comment and voting included many Cantabrigians who said they had taken part in Cop City protests – the situation has been ongoing since before an Atlanta city council vote in 2021 – or were in touch with people who had.

Before the votes, McGovern noted that he has a son living in Atlanta who has attended protests there. “He’s filled me in on some of the stuff that’s happening,” McGovern said. “I don’t know why we would ever want to send our officers to be trained by the Atlanta police department.”

Under Cambridge’s former police commissioner, Branville G. Bard Jr., the city opened its own police academy “because of the way in which our police officers were being trained through the state,” McGovern said. “Our police officers receive a lot of training on the history of racism in policing, nonviolent crisis intervention and trauma-informed therapy, things you don’t get in other places. So our officers are receiving training – they’re receiving state-of-the-art training – in community policing, and in fact, maybe Atlanta should be sending their officers up here to be trained by us.”