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Q&A on Cambridge’s New Community Safety Department with Director Christina Giacobbe

Monday, September 12, 2022
The Community Safety Department will coordinate community driven solutions that enhance safety and wellness in the community by providing key programs and services targeted at the most vulnerable populations.

The new Community Safety Department (CSD) will be comprised of non-public safety personnel who can coordinate programs and provide key community services that focus on behavioral health crisis (mental health, developmental disabilities, and substance use), violence prevention and intervention, and overall wellness. CSD will also manage an alternative response pilot program launching this fall, in which field teams will respond to non-violent and behavioral health crisis calls to 911. While calling 911 is always preferred, text to 911 is available if calling is not an option. A new 988 number is also available for anyone experiencing emotional distress, behavioral crisis, or suicidal crisis, or for individuals worried about a loved one and not sure how to support that person.

What is a Community Safety Department and why is the City creating one?

The Community Safety Department is an independent new department that will supplement the important work being done by existing Cambridge public safety agencies and other departments. Similar to other community safety agencies and programs, CSD will seek to provide evidence- informed services that are rooted in harm reduction and trauma-informed principles which are grounded in the belief that all people deserve respect, autonomy, dignity, and opportunity.

The City is establishing this department in response to a City Council policy order to develop an unarmed alternative response program, as well as in response to community concerns about supporting Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents and enhancing violence prevention efforts.

What is the new 988 number and when should it be used?

People can still call 911 to report a crime, fire, medical emergency, or a behavioral health crisis. In July, a new 988 was launched for calls related to, or from anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. The 988 number can also be used by an individual who is concerned about a loved one to request a check-in, or to get them help. Trained counselors, who are not clinicians, are available to provide free, confidential emotional support to all callers. 988 centers will work closely with local 911 centers to coordinate an emergency or alternative response as needed. In addition, people can also call the City’s non-emergency number at 617-349-3300.

How will the Community Safety Department Improve Services to the Community?

CSD will collaborate with area non-profits, community safety agencies, and other local partners to develop additional programs and services through community engagement, focus groups, analyzing data, and establishing an advisory group to identify gaps in services to the most vulnerable populations. These services may include providing mutual aid services, community-based skill building and training, and providing aftercare and proactive community response to community members experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

How will it be determined if the police responds or CSD responds?

Non-violent crisis calls without scene safety concerns will get a CSD response. However, as with all response plans for emergency services, scene safety for all is the first priority. If there is a scene safety concern, such as possible weapons or potential threat, police will respond and stabilize the scene first, then determine what additional resources are necessary.

What type of training will CSD personnel undergo?

Employees of the department will undergo various training based on their role. Some training identified as best practice for alternative response programs include: Crisis Management; De-escalation Techniques; Trauma-informed Response; Motivational Interviewing; CIT (Crisis Intervention Training); Harm Reduction; CPR & First Aid; Domestic Violence Prevention & Response; Needs Assessment & Safety Planning; Youth Engagement; Peer Support; Bystander Training; Racial Equity; and Local Community Organizations & Resources Training.

How can I find out more about working at the Community Safety Department?

Visit the City’s job page to view open positions by the Community Safety Department at Cambridgema.gov/jobs. For more information, contact Christina Giacobbe, CGiacobbe@Cambridge911.Org.


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