Somerville Declares Systemic Racism a Public Safety, Health Emergency

Mayor Joseph Curtatone is proposing police reforms amid outrage over police brutality against black people

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Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is declaring systemic racism a public safety and health emergency, calling for changes in the city's police department.

"No one should fear for their lives because of the color of their skin. No one should have to grieve the loss of a loved one, friend, or stranger who died because they were black. No one should have to fear those who are sworn to protect and serve," Curtatone said in a statement. "These initiatives are neither the beginning nor the end of this vital effort. They are an intensification, one that every city, town, and state — as well as our nation — must commit to."

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone is proposing police reforms as demonstrations take place across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.

Curtatone is proposing reforms as demonstrations take place across the state and the country calling for an end to structural racism amid outrage over the killing of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.

Curtatone is proposing reforms including the establishment of a Civilian Oversight Committee, requiring officer body cameras and eliminating conflicts of interest by preventing officers from investigating colleagues accused of misconduct.

Curtatone is also calling on the state to appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute potentially criminal cases of misconduct by officers. Currently, Massachusetts district attorneys serve this function, which Curtatone argues creates a conflict of interest given their close working relationship with local police in criminal investigations and testimonies.

Hundreds of people gathered on Boston Common, with many participating in a die-in for George Floyd.

Somerville Police Chief David Fallon expressed his support for reform, stating the steps will help continue on a path to ensure fair and safe protection and to earn and maintain community trust.

“We have been systematically transforming our approach to policing from an outdated model focused on arrests to one that acknowledges and responds to the needs of the community and is focused on compassion, de-escalation, and crisis intervention," Fallon said. "I’m proud that our officers are committed to continually evolving how we protect the health and welfare of our community. But we have more work to do."

The new initiatives draw from policy platforms developed by Campaign Zero and the 10-point plan released by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and other elected officials of color in Massachusetts, according to Curtatone's office.

Local leaders of color stood outside the Massachusetts State House to call for change.

The following are Curtatone's proposals:

  • Declaration of a local state of emergency officially deeming systemic racism a threat to public health and safety.
  • Establishment of an independent, civilian oversight structure of the Somerville Police Department with membership representative of the community’s diversity.
  • Launch of immediate efforts to eliminate the inherent conflicts of interest arising from police officers internally investigating allegations of misconduct by fellow officers: City has filed a petition to remove the internal investigation oversight position from Somerville Police Superior Officers Association (one of two police unions).
  • A call for the creation of an independent special prosecutor at the state level to review and, where appropriate, to prosecute cases of potentially criminal police misconduct.
  • Submission of a resolution to the City Council reiterating the critical need to implement body-worn cameras in the Police Department, an initiative the City has been pursuing with police union leadership since 2015.
  • Instituting asset forfeiture funding policies that limit the use of these monies to two purposes: 1) to provide prevention and substance use recovery, mental and behavioral health, and other services and resources -- primarily through the City’s Community Outreach, Health and Recovery (COHR) Office -- to support residents and divert them from the criminal justice system; and 2) implicit bias, de-escalation, crisis intervention, health and mental wellness, and other similar training for Somerville police officers.
  • A call for statewide action to address the deficiencies of the Civil Service system combined with local civilian review of whether the Somerville Police Department (SPD) should pursue legislative action to depart from the Civil Service system in order to ease the City’s ability to hire and promote officers who reflect the community’s values and diversity and who have the skills necessary for policing in the 21st century.
  • A commitment to further demilitarization and an end to Somerville’s participation in federal military weaponry distribution to local police departments.
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