Cambridge City Council’s finance committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to advance a $3 million proposal for a planned community safety service.
The committee approved the proposal at a fiscal year 2023 budget meeting. The proposal will now go to a full board vote with a favorable recommendation from the finance committee.
If approved, the CSD would serve as a launch point for the city’s non-policing emergency response programs, organizing initiatives such as the Cambridge Alternative Response Program, which would be tasked with responding to mental health crises and to other non-violent emergencies.
Cambridge launched its exploration of non-policing public safety alternatives in response to the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The council issued an order in June establishing an alternative public safety task force with a mandate to propose changes to the city’s approach to policing and public safety in general.
Councilman Marc C. McGovern, who co-chaired the task force, said in an interview that CDS would allow the city to rethink public safety while moving away from criminal punishment for homelessness, health issues mental and substance use disorders.
“We need more and different resources for people who need services but may not want to rely on the police,” McGovern said.
The CSD would also be responsible for coordinating public safety initiatives beyond Cambridge’s city government, with the city allocating around $1.5 million to “community programs and services”.
Christina Giacobbe, who leads the city’s emergency communications, said the Holistic Alternative Emergency Response Team — a resident-led public safety alternative — could be one of the organizations CDS works with. associates.
“We hope HEART will work with us and we think we’re on the verge of really understanding each other,” Giacobbe said.
HEART spokeswoman Stephanie Guirand said the organization was concerned about how CSD would operate in practice, citing CDS’s proposed six-member staff.
“We still don’t know exactly what this department is going to do,” Guirand said. “If four to six people can get 10% of 911 calls, then we have to wonder why the city increased the police budget and why the police have such a strong force in the first place.”
The proposed 2023 budget for the Cambridge Police Department has increased by nearly 7%, from around $69 million to more than $73 million.
Although HEART does not explicitly coordinate with the police, CSD would have access to police radios and could relay calls to the Cambridge Police Department.
In an interview, Councilman Quinton Y. Zondervan said CSD’s collaboration with police is “exactly why [the proposal] is not good enough”, adding that “what we really want is a HEART model”.
McGovern said he understands why some residents would prefer emergency response assistance outside of city government given CDS’s coordination with police.
“It’s a ministry of government – no matter where they are housed, no matter where they sit, there are people who won’t want to deal with it, and they should have another answer,” he said. -he declares. “HEART could be another answer.”
McGovern added that the city does not view the HEART proposal as mutually exclusive with the new department, and that Cambridge has sufficient financial resources to support both initiatives.
Councilwoman E. Denise Simmons told the meeting that she was also optimistic about the future of CSD and its new approach to community safety.
“It has been a pleasure to do this groundbreaking work on behalf of the city and its citizens,” Simmons said. “It was truly a collaborative and engaged process and I can’t wait to see its outcome.”
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