Proposed Community Safety Department to Offer Alternative Response to Non-Violent and Behavioral Health Crisis 911 Calls

May 19, 2022

The City of Cambridge is proposing a new Community Safety Department (CSD) that will coordinate community driven solutions to enhance safety in the community, with key services and programs targeted at our most vulnerable populations. CSD will operate independently from the Cambridge Police Department, and services will focus on behavioral health crisis response and violence prevention and intervention. These initiatives will be rooted in harm reduction and trauma-informed principles grounded in the belief that all people deserve respect, autonomy, dignity, and opportunity.

If approved by the City Council, CSD will oversee the Cambridge Alternative Response Program that will include specialized civilian field teams that serve as the primary responders to non-violent and behavioral health crisis calls received through the Cambridge Emergency Communications Center (ECC) which operates 9-1-1. The medical protocol utilized by ECC staff provides assurances that patient care will not be compromised. The field teams will employ their training and lived experiences to provide immediate support to individuals in crisis and provide aftercare services.

The Cambridge City Council initiated a review of public safety models after national events elevated the conversation around traditional public safety and policing and the need for alternative emergency responses for non-emergency related situations.

The City Manager established the City Manager’s Alternate Public Safety Task Force led by Councillor E. Denise Simmons and Councillor Marc C. McGovern to examine the future of public safety in Cambridge. The Task Force made many recommendations including a mental health professional to assist with triage for callers experiencing behavioral health crisis and policy around alternative response programs to support those experiencing a mental health emergency.

If approved, the CSD will establish an advisory committee to support the Cambridge Alternative Response Program to provide a forum for stakeholders, community partners, and members to provide guidance on the evolution of the program, opportunity for program evaluation, and accountability to a representative group of community members. Membership will include members from local community organizations and public safety agencies, as well as members of the public.

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