Today’s post is a written Q&A with Branville Bard, Commissioner of the Cambridge, MA police department. Though I see Commissioner Bard reasonably frequently, I had asked him earlier for the Q&A by email to help get the blog going.
Later this week, I’ll share the conversation I had with the police chief in Cambridge, NY. As I move forward in considering what links and distinguishes the Cambridges, I hope to provide more of these side-by-side reflections, as I’ve also done with the mayors (or those at the top of the government with other titles).
How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge, Massachusetts is a unique community with a strong mix of cultural, demographic and social diversity, intellectual vitality and technological innovation. It is located across the Charles River from Boston and home to world-renowned educational institutions (Harvard and MIT) and numerous high-tech and bio-tech companies.
What is currently going well in Cambridge, from a police perspective?
We are currently in a time period where crime is at or near record lows, the Department is highly engaged and rooted within the community, and residents believe that the City is a safe place to live. We also continue to revamp our organization in a way that goes beyond traditional policing to best meet and serve the evolving needs of the City.
What issues currently worry you, from a police perspective?
Since 2005, the number of serious violent crimes in Cambridge has nearly been cut in half. However, the number of overdose calls for service has more than doubled, while psychiatric calls for service have increased more than 70 percent. Mental health crises are a very significant issue that need to and are being addressed in a collaborative way with our various community partners.
On a related topic, I am also very concerned about the troubling trend of officers who have taken their own lives across the country. Officers spend so much of their days assisting others, but before they can help the people they serve, they need to first help themselves. Officers need to understand that there is no shame in seeking assistance from the many resources that are available inside and outside of a department.
What do you predict for policing in Cambridge 20 years from now?
The demands of policing are drastically changing, particularly here in Cambridge. It is my hope that national criminal justice reform will lead to an environment that breaks the cycle of crime for those individuals who are frequently incarcerated for substance abuse and mental health-related crimes. Ideally, we will have developed more established collaborations with public health providers and ensure those suffering receive the short and long-term services that will enable them to once again become productive contributors to society.