A proposal in Cambridge to explore shifting traffic stop duties away from police officers to unarmed civilians would be “beyond dangerous,” the president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police tells the Herald.
The Cambridge City Council policy order from two councilors comes amid the national movement for police reform and an end to systemic racism after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
But any changes to police departments “have to be reasonable,” said Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police.
“My God, I wouldn’t want a family member having that duty as an unarmed civilian stopping a car,” said Kyes, the Chelsea police chief. “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,” he added.
The Cambridge proposed policy reads: “The City Manager look into transferring primary traffic enforcement responsibilities from the Cambridge Police Department to unarmed, trained enforcement personnel in the Traffic & Parking Department, Department of Public Works, Health & Human Services, or another suitable department.”
“Routine traffic stops disproportionately impact Black and Brown drivers, who are pulled over and searched more often than white drivers, leading to potentially stressful interactions with the police,” the policy states.
“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,” it reads. “Routine traffic enforcement can be conducted by unarmed employees of the city, which would reduce the possibility of violence during such encounters.”
Under the policy, Cambridge 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.”
“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,” Councilor Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, one of the councilors to propose the order, said at Monday’s meeting. “Not to have this be implemented overnight without thinking through it. I don’t think it’s a provocative policy order.”
Under Massachusetts law, police officers are statutorily required to handle traffic stops, said Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon. As a result, 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.”
Cambridge Police spokesman Jeremy Warnick also noted the Massachusetts law. He said, “Traffic enforcement is never routine.”
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