The Cambridge City Council voted Monday to temporarily pause the hiring of vacant positions in the Cambridge Police Department and begin filling positions in the Housing Liaison Office, Community Development Department, and Central Square Library.
The order amended Policy Order 7, legislation sponsored by Councilors Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Quinton Y. Zondervan that calls on the city to redirect at least part of the FY 2021 CPD budget increase to improving the public health and safety of other departments.
Instead of filling CPD positions, the city will instead prioritize hiring positions like a case manager in the Housing Liaison Office, an Associate Housing Planner, and a new social worker in the Central Square Library. Sobrinho-Wheeler noted that if the amendment had not been passed, the hiring process for these positions would have begun as late as April 2021.
Ultimately, the funds reallocated to those hires equal a “$2.5 million Police Department budget increase,” according to the amended order.
As protests calling for police reform and racial justice ripple through the nation in response to George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, city councilors said the policy order was an appropriate first step for Cambridge.
“This was a really short timeline to have this conversation about the FY21 budget, and it needs to continue being a part of a larger conversation about policing, accountability, and racism that the city as a whole has,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said at Monday’s meeting. “There are a lot of points we are never going to be able to address in this policy order alone, but that I hope we get to have a chance to talk about going forward.”
Vice Mayor Alanna M. Mallon said though CPD’s current practices have been shaped by “nearly a decade of intentional racial justice work,” the city must listen to residents who have voiced their concerns about public safety.
“I would argue as many have here in the past week that Cambridge Police Department is not Minneapolis. It's not New York, it's not LAPD or Buffalo or Albuquerque,” Mallon said. “But that doesn't mean we're perfect, nor does it mean that in this moment, we do not also have a call to action, and to push for achieving a deep look at policing and how we fund it in Cambridge.”
While Councilor Marc C. McGovern supported the policy order, he cautioned city officials that the reallocation of CPD's $2.5 million budget increase could undermine the department’s existing reforms. McGovern said it would be a mistake if the city cut funding for the police academy, the Office of Procedural Justice, or the new recruitment class — which he said was “the most diverse in the history of the department.”
“If the money impacted certain unfilled positions or demilitarizing the department — which we should do regardless of the budget — then that would be different,” McGovern said of the amendment. “The conversations here are not necessarily the conversations they need to have in Minneapolis or Los Angeles or even Boston. We have to be part of the national dialogue, while also realizing that the specifics are different in each municipality.”
—Staff writer Charles Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @charles_xu_27.