The police perspective, Cambridge, NY

While I was visiting with Cambridge, NY Mayor Carman Bogle, she introduced me to the chief of the police department, Sergeant Robert Danko.  I didn’t have an appointment, but Sgt. Danko graciously made time for me after Mayor Bogle and I finished our conversation.  The rest of the town offices had closed and Sgt. Danko was alone in the police office.

I expected that police work would be an area of stark contrast among the Cambridges.  In the end, I found many differences, but also some similarities.

To start, just as the Village of Cambridge shares administrative roles with the Towns of Cambridge and White Creek, the Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department is shared by the two villages.  And they, in turn, receive additional support from the Washington County Sheriff.  There is coordination between the two forces, and the connection gives the village police a broader perspective, such as on current police techniques, than they could develop on their own.  Sgt Danko

I started by asking Sgt. Danko what is going well for Cambridge Police.  “We’re the true essence of a small town police department.  Everybody knows everybody.  People are more comfortable when they know the person in a uniform.”  Community policing would seem to be inherent in working in a small community, where each police officer will likely know many of the villagers. He described policing the village as “not too chaotic.  We have our issues, but they’re not overwhelming.”

Sgt. Danko, who started his career with the village police force but later worked for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for three years, returned to the village in 2018.  He said that there’s a “big difference” working for the Sheriff’s Office.  It’s “not as intimate as working in a village.  People here are not so intimidated by interactions with the police.”  He said that officers with the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t usually have as close a relationship with the community.  “We tried, but it’s harder to do.”

Among current issues for the Cambridge police are changes to New York State law that Sgt. Danko described as “more criminal friendly.”  (For example, the state is raising the age at which individuals will automatically be charged as adults to 18.)  “It’s a learning curve and a process for us” to adapt to the changes, he said.

A challenge that Cambridge, MA, NY, and ME all share is the opioid epidemic, and this is one of the areas where the village police force works with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.  Sgt. Danko said of heroin that, “People are selling it here, trafficking it here, and overdosing here.”  With the small communities in Washington County, a regional approach is needed.

While I was meeting with Sgt. Danko, we were joined by a stream of lost drivers.  A utility pole had fallen across one of the roads and drivers were confused about how to reach their destination.  He drew maps and provided instructions to each visitor.  Soon enough, I could give the directions myself, but as the detour involved multiple twists and turns (left at the stoplight, right at the stop sign), I thought it best to leave the directing to Sgt. Danko and I went on my way.

How would you describe Cambridge?
It’s quaint.  It’s active but not too active — the perfect balance of village life, quiet enough that it’s not overbearing.

The police perspective, Cambridge, MA

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.

Commissioner Bard
Photo courtesy of City of Cambridge website.

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.