Final Report of the Cambridge Review Committee

Photo by Alex Brandon/Associated Press

The Cambridge Review Committee released their written report on the incident that occurred last summer between Sergeant James Crowley and Professor Gates. The following is a link to the report posted on the City of Cambridge Police Department’s web-site along with a summary of the panel’s 10 recommendations. The panel expands on the recommendations beginning on page 42 of the report.

The Cambridge Review committee’s Recommendations

Following are the Committee’s recommendations, which in most cases apply both to the Cambridge Police Department and to other police agencies nationwide:

1. WHEN “LEGITIMACY” AND SAFETY ISSUES COLLIDE: Police need support from the public to do their jobs effectively, so police must recognize the importance of ensuring that community members believe they are receiving “procedural justice,” which involves whether residents feel they are treated with dignity and respect during an encounter with police.

Police must strive to ensure that members of the community understand how legitimacy and procedural justice issues can conflict with the safety of police officers and the public, and that safety must take priority. Police should recognize that misunderstandings can occur, and

should attempt, after any dangers or threats have been mitigated, to engage citizens in conversation to explain actions and resolve conflicts.

The public should recognize that during encounters with police, officers may sometimes do or say things that the public does not immediately understand, but which are based on proper police procedure. Community members should understand that when they are in the midst of an encounter with a police officer, they should comply with the officer’s instructions and respond to the officer’s inquiries, recognizing the inherent risk that officers often face in such encounters. Complaints can be made and discussed later in other venues.

Additional recommendations in this area are found below and are described in greater detail in the full report.

2. DE-ESCALATION OF CONFLICTS: Police officers, as well as community members, should strive to de-escalate the level of tension in their encounters with each other. Officers should be trained in interpersonal communication skills in order to de-escalate encounters—after they have satisfied themselves that they have control of the situation and risks have been mitigated. In some cases, de-escalation also can be a tool for helping to reduce danger by calming a person who is upset or unstable.

3. DISCRETION: Police departments should recognize that the discretion given to officers is an important tool and should adopt policies to guide officers in the exercise of discretion. The goal is to teach officers to make discretionary decisions based on the values and principles of the department, while recognizing that, by the very nature of discretion, rules cannot be written for every possible situation.

4. COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: The City of Cambridge should make additional efforts to engage the community in policing initiatives, including the academic community. The Cambridge Police Commissioner should consider establishing a Police Commissioner’s Advisory Board, consisting of leaders from various segments of the greater Cambridge community, with whom the commissioner would meet and consult periodically.

5. WORKING WITH UNIVERSITY POLICE DEPARTMENTS: The Cambridge Police Department should make concerted efforts to work with the Harvard University Police and MIT Police toward greater integration of their missions, policies, procedures, and interdepartmental training, with a special interest in areas of concurrent jurisdiction. When multiple police agencies share jurisdiction over a community, the more their operations can be coordinated and standardized, the easier it becomes for the public to form accurate expectations of the police, regardless of which department they may encounter.

6. HELPING CITZENS TO UNDERSTAND POLICING: Police departments should expand the use of programs, such as Citizen Police Academies, that help residents to understand what it is like to be a police officer.

7. RECRUITING AND TRAINING: Police departments should identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities they want in new officer candidates, as well as the desired problem-solving abilities and other traits, and then should develop a strategy to recruit applicants who are likely to possess those qualifications. The Cambridge Police Department should work with other police agencies in Massachusetts to engage with state officials about possible reform measures regarding restrictive statewide civil service requirements.

The Cambridge Police Department’s police academy for new recruits and ongoing training for officers could be improved with a specific block of instruction dealing with officer discretion and de-escalation techniques. And the department should consider expanding and improving its field training program for new officers.

8. SHARING INFORMATION ABOUT HIGH- PROFILE INCIDENTS: The police should work with elected and appointed government officials to develop protocols for the timely dissemination of accurate information about incidents that generate great public interest.

9. RESEARCH AND BEST PRACTICES: Police should continually monitor research and seek out the best training practices adopted within law enforcement in the area of arrests, arrest alternatives, discretion, de-escalation, and communications skills.


The Committee recommends that the Cambridge Police Department consider convening a series of community forums, similar to those that have been conducted in cities such as Kansas City and Chicago. The Cambridge Police Department conducted a similar program in 2003, called the Collaborative Leadership Project. These types of forums are not open meetings in which residents are invited to speak out on any topic. Rather, they are discussions, facilitated by a moderator, that focus on a particular topic in each meeting. The goal is to encourage open discussions and allow police and community leaders to learn from each other about critical issues.

Photo by Bill Carter/Demotix Images

About Attorney John J. MacLaughlan

John MacLaughlan is Massachusetts licensed attorney as well as a Boston police officer. John is currently assigned to the Youth Violence Strike Force (Gang Unit). He is a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law with a concentration in Labor Law. He holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as well as a Bachelors Degree in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John has taught Defensive Tactics, Firearms, Use of Force, Applied Patrol Procedures, and Police Response to Active Shooters to sworn police officers and police academy recruits. Prior to becoming a Boston Police Officer, John served for 9 years as a police officer in Lowell, where he was a member of the Police Dive Team and Patrol Rifle Team.
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