Cambridge, MA – Two city councilors have proposed taking the duty of traffic stops out of the hands of local police and instead putting the responsibility for traffic enforcement into the hands of non-law enforcement city employees.
The policy order, co-sponsored by Cambridge City Councilors Quinton Zondervan and Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler on Monday, said traffic stops should be conducted by unarmed city staff to “reduce the possibility of violence during such encounters,” WBZ reported.
The proposal to take traffic enforcement off the responsibilities list for the Cambridge Police Department complained that black and brown drivers are stopped more often than white drivers and called it a “racist outcome” that is the result of systemic bias in that city that leads “potentially stressful interactions with the police.”
“The presence of an armed police officer during a routine traffic stop raises the tension of the encounter unnecessarily and can itself lead to conflict, causing harmful stress to both parties and damaging the relationship between police and the community,” the policy order read. “Routine traffic enforcement can be conducted by unarmed employees of the city, which would reduce the possibility of violence during such encounters.”
The proposal said that police officers would still be responsible “for apprehending known criminals, dangerous or erratic drivers, and other related situations that clearly go beyond routine traffic enforcement,” but makes no explanation of how non-law enforcement city employees are supposed to handle traffic stops that turn ugly, WBZ reported.
The city councilors ordered the city manager to research their proposal and report back right away.
But Cambridge Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon put the brakes on the proposed order after the meeting on Monday, according to Cambridge Police Department Spokesman Jeremy Warnick.
Warnick told The Police Tribune that Mallon “exercised her charter right on the policy order,” essentially setting the order aside until a future council meeting when the issue can be further discussed.
He said “there are legal, safety and practical concerns and implications associated with the proposed order,” not the least of which is the fact the authority to enforce traffic laws and issue citations is codified in Massachusetts law as a responsibility of police officers.
The proposed order to move traffic enforcement to city employees also completely ignored the fact that those interactions frequently lead to the apprehension of violent or wanted offenders.
The vice mayor told the Boston Herald that she exercised her charter right so the “motion makers can confer with the city solicitor and the city manager around what’s statutorily required for traffic enforcement currently in Massachusetts, and we can have a fuller discussion in September once those questions have been answered.”
Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who is also president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police, called the proposed Cambridge plan “beyond dangerous,” the Boston Herald reported.
“My God, I wouldn’t want a family member having that duty as an unarmed civilian stopping a car,” Chief Kyes said. “That is beyond dangerous. You just never know what you’re going to be met with.”
“We can’t put people in unnecessary danger, and that’s what this would do,” the chief added.
One of the proposal’s authors admitted they haven’t worked through the details of how it would work, but defended the plan to take traffic enforcement out of the hands of police, the Boston Herald reported.
“I think there’s definitely pieces of this we’d have to understand and look into, and that’s the goal of this policy order,” Cambridge City Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler said at the meeting on July 27. “Not to have this be implemented overnight without thinking through it. I don’t think it’s a provocative policy order.”
Cambridge police pointed out to The Police Tribune that “traffic enforcement is never routine.”
“As an example, just before midnight on July 4, Officers observed Toyota Prius operating erratically on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge nearly causing a crash,” Warnick said. “The vehicle was stopped and the front seat passenger – an 18-year-old from Cambridge – was found to be in possession of a loaded Ruger 9mm pistol, which contained a magazine capable of holding 15 rounds. The passenger was not licensed to carry a firearm.”
He also said that the non-sworn parking enforcement officers for the city regularly have to call the Cambridge police for help to safely carry out their jobs because they encounter intimidation when they’re trying to issue parking tickets.
Chief Kyes told the Boston Herald that changes to how enforcement is done in the new police reform era “have to be reasonable.”
The Police Tribune reached out to Zondervan for comment but did not receive a response.