Public Perception Examined Within Cambridge, Mass. Police Department

Department looking to increased communication, management of situations as opposed to control

The Cambridge Police Department is taking a hard look at the public perception of policing in America and inside its own department.

"I feel like young people and police officers are at each other's throats right now," said Cambridge Police Officer Steven Allen.

Allen thought they were making progress in the community, but that was before all the officer involved shootings captured on cell phone cameras started shocking the nation and relationships between law enforcement and communities of color deteriorating - dragging all departments down.

"Absolutely some of the lowest moral that I have seen officers are really feeling," said Deputy Superintendent Christine Elow.

Even in this new environment of policing in America, Elow says they're sticking to their plan for reform especially after their own watershed moment.

"That was our piece of humble pie," Elow said.

In 2009, one of their officers mistakenly arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Junior, suspected of being a burglar outside his house, stirring a national debate on racial profiling. Since then, the department took major steps toward reform and discovered that most officers are trained to think their authority comes from the written law and their badge, when in reality; it should come from the community, an idea called the legitimacy theory.

"Increased communication, de-escalation, management of situations as opposed to control," said Elow.

Richard Harding leads the Cambridge NAACP and says change will take time, and the challenge is getting all officers to buy in, including neighbors.

"So until you have a mindset as a community that your police are there to police you in a respectful way, you may still act accordingly to the old rules of engagement," said Harding.

City Councilor Leland Cheung is hopeful the progress made in Cambridge, could be a model for other agencies.

"And other cities can look at what we've done, learn from our mistakes and learn what we've done well," said Cheung.

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