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Cambridge City Council Contemplates Police Body Cameras, Passes Alternative Emergency Response Measure

Cambridge City Hall is located in Central Square.
Cambridge City Hall is located in Central Square. By Thomas Maisonneuve
By Jina H. Choe and Samuel P. Goldston, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge City Council discussed the implementation of police body cameras and the third-party review of the Cambridge Police Department’s policies and practices at a virtual council meeting Monday.

CPD Commissioner Christine A. Elow and City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 fielded questions from councilors regarding the city’s police reforms, which come amid backlash following the killing of Sayed Faisal by a CPD officer on Jan. 4.

Councilor Paul F. Toner asked Elow if body cameras for police officers would conflict with Cambridge’s surveillance ordinance, to which Elow responded that she doesn’t “see any real big barriers.”

Elow added, however, that privacy concerns could arise around when officers can turn body cameras on and off and when cameras are recording on private property.

“All of that will be explicitly outlined in the policy,” she said.

Elow and Huang also said they selected the Police Executive Research Forum — a national nonprofit organization — to serve as the independent third party that will review the CPD’s methods for mental health call services and deescalation.

“Both myself and the commissioner and her leadership team had some conversations with a couple of these organizations to explore whether this kind of scope of work would be something that they would be willing and able to do,” Huang said. “PERF really was the best fit.”

During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, many Cambridge residents said they support Charter Right 1, which would provide Cambridge Holistic Emergency Alternative Response Team — a non-profit focused on non-police responses to crises — city funding and the ability to respond to some 911 calls, including those involving mental illness.

Councilor Patricia M. Nolan ’80 exercised her charter right two weeks ago on the measure — then referred to as Policy Order 7 — postponing discussion to this week. The Council added several amendments, ensuring that HEART staff will not respond to 911 calls involving violence without police and providing for an adjustment period before HEART begins its expanded response services.

The Council passed the policy order with the support of seven members.

Other public comments were made on behalf of Starlight Square, a space in Central Square devoted to creative performances, small businesses, and public art.

Numerous Cambridge residents said the space was a neighborhood fixture that brings people together in a city that they said is increasingly out-of-reach for young and low-income people.

There will be a one-week hiatus before the Council reconvenes April 3.

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at

—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at

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