The Housing Committee held a public meeting on Monday, June 27, 2005 beginning at three o’clock and twenty-five minutes P.M. in the Ackermann Room. The meeting was held for the purpose of discussing the concerns of Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA) tenants and tenants of private affordable housing developments regarding crime in the vicinity of their housing and how CHA Security, the Police Department, building managers and tenants can work together to address their concerns.
Present at the meeting were Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio, Chair of the Committee, Mayor Michael A. Sullivan, Vice Mayor Marjorie C. Decker, Councillor Brian Murphy and City Clerk D. Margaret Drury. Also present were Ronnie Watson, Cambridge Police Commissioner, David Degou, Cambridge Police Superintendent, Michael Giacoppo, Cambridge Police Superintendent, Greg Russ, Executive Director of the Cambridge Housing Authority (CHA), Jack Geary, Director of Operations, CHA, Gloria Leipzig, Deputy Director of Operations, CHA, Sharon Cowan, Planning Administrator, CHA, Faith Walker, Senior Manager of Millers’ River Apartments, 15 Lambert Street, Belkis Roome, Manager of Manning Apartments, Fred Reese, President of the Tenant Council, Woodrow Wilson Apartments, Pam Harnett, President of the Tenant Council, Putnam School Apartments, Bea Harvey, President, Tenant Council, Manning Apartments, Michael Haran, Executive Director of CASCAP and member of Affordable Housing Trust, Alice Savage, Intern, Just-A-Start, Barbara Shaw, Housing Director, Just-A-Start, Zoe Weinrobe, Housing Planner, Community Development Department, Beverly Dorsey, Manager, L. E. Smith Management Company, Cambridge, John Serwicinski, Coordinator, North Cambridge Crime Task Force and Bob Costa, Homeowner’s Rehab, Inc.
Councillor Galluccio convened the meeting and explained the purpose. He stated that he is interested in talking with management and tenants and the Police Department to hear whether current strategies are working.
Jack Geary, CHA Director of Operations, stated that the CHA has a close working relationship with the Cambridge Police Department. He distributed a document entitled “Cambridge Housing Authority Strategic Public Safety Initiative” (Attachment A), and summarized the content. He noted an over over-arching goal of controlling the incidents of criminal activity in CHA properties through coordinated public safety activities, to be achieved by the four strategies of seamless coordination between the CHA and Cambridge Police Department (CPD), improving communication between CHA residents and CPD, a focus on physical facilities safety, and augmenting CPD patrols with a strategic deployment plan for property-focused patrols.
Mr. Geary stated that the CHA is planning to hire a Public Safety Manager. That person will be responsible for coordinating this initiative. He added that the physical facilities focus is very important. They have been doing a lot of work at Jefferson Park on locks and fencing. The CHA will also spend some funds to augment the police patrols.
Councillor Galluccio invited comments from CHA residents and Tenant Council Presidents.
Fred Reese, Tenant Council President for Woodrow Wilson Apartments, asked how many security people work for CHA. Mr. Geary said right now there is only one person. He is leaving and will be replaced by someone with more police experience as the Public Safety Manager. Rather than having another security guard, the CHA wants to use its available funds for augmenting Cambridge police patrols when and where necessary.
Mr. Russ, Executive Director of the CHA, said that since the federal Drug Elimination funding was terminated, there has been only one security person, along with monitors at senior buildings. Councillor Galluccio asked if the private developments have any security personnel.
Commissioner Watson said that the CPD also supplements with park and walk assignments (“86’s”) when necessary. The most important ingredient to effective patrolling is communication between residents and police so that the police know when to be there. As long as CPD knows what the issues are and where they are needed they have the ability to address the problem.
Mr. Reece said that other tenants have threatened some tenants if they call the police.
Superintendent Giacoppo said that for over 15 years senior officers of the CPD and CHA building managers have had a monthly meeting. Before that, there was a serious crime problem at CHA property, but it has decreased enormously. For example, at last month’s meeting the manager of Jefferson Park provided information on drug sales and the next week the issue was resolved.
Superintendent Giacoppo reported that the biggest issue they have is trespassing. The people causing the problems are not the residents. The last three big drug arrests were non-residents. The issue cannot be solved without help from the tenants and managers. The managers are doing a good job of bringing the information to the police.
Councillor Galluccio said that the message of Jefferson Park manager is putting up “No Trespassing” signs.
Superintendent Giacoppo said that while these signs can be helpful, residents have the right to invite people onto the premises, so enforcement of trespass laws can be challenging.
Councillor Galluccio said drug dealing has become more sophisticated and less visible. The problems he hears the most about are more those of harassment by groups hanging around.
Mr. Geary said that the CHA just added several “No Trespassing” signs. There was an area of Jefferson Park that had become a new hangout. Police expressed concern about stopping people when there were no signs prohibiting trespassing.
Superintendent Giacoppo described the restricted access list by which tenants and managers can limit access of specific people, such as, drug dealers, etc. and police can require people on that list to leave the premises.
Councillor Galluccio asked how a call about loud noise at three a. m. gets handled. Superintendent Degou said that these are routine calls and are handled the same way throughout the City. The CPD sends a patrol car by and gives them one chance. Commissioner Watson said that if there is drinking on the street, the police take the required enforcement action.
Superintendent Giacoppo said that the CHA security coordinator regularly reviews the police reports about activity on and near CHA property.
Councillor Galluccio noted the importance of the CHA security liaison.
Councillor Murphy urged the CHA to work with the police in terms of the job description for the new security patrol in light of the decreased federal funding.
Superintendent Degou said he would like to hear from residents about their concerns.
Bea Harvey, Tenant Council President, Manning Apartments said that when Central Square bar patrons leave the bars, they continue their party at the Green Street Garage, mostly on the weekends. The Green Street Garage is open all night.
Superintendent Giacoppo said that the majority of the calls from the CHA senior buildings are medical calls.
Arvilla Saracen, Miller River Apartments, said that the emergency switch in the bathrooms and bedrooms of the units only flashes outside in the hall. It does not ring anywhere. Tenants do not know that.
Mr. Russ said that this system was not designed as a substitute for a 911 call. It lights the light outside the unit and unlocks the door. If the tenant has an ongoing medical condition that may require emergency assistance something like Lifeline is more appropriate.
Commission Watson said that since the majority of calls are medical, perhaps it would be good to look at what procedures are in place for medical emergencies and to meet to develop some new coordinated procedures.
Councillor Galluccio asked when there will be a new CHA security liaison. Mr. Geary said that he is hoping to have the new person hired by the end of July.
Councillor Galluccio asked Commissioner Watson about undercover operations. Commissioner Watson said that these operations are ongoing and effective and often utilize police from other cities and towns. Superintendent Giacoppo described a recent use of undercover police from another city for a drug arrest. It works very well.
Commissioner Watson said that CPD also pursues evictions of the perpetrators whenever there is a drug arrest.
Faith Walker, Senior Manager of Miller River Apartments said that she had great experience with the police at Washington Elms and New Town Courts. She would love to see a police officer walk through the building during the day. There have been some recent issues, some thefts, and she believes that the presence of the police walking through would make the residents feel more comfortable and send a message.
Commissioner Watson said that could be arranged. He also said that the CPD is getting ready to schedule crime seminars at each of the CHA senior buildings.
Councillor Murphy said that the neighborhood sergeant meetings have been excellent. In addition, early evening crime walks involving the police and City departments have been very effective in neighborhoods, because safety issues can be pointed out to the departments that can resolve them. Councillor Galluccio said that in the case of CHA walks, it would be the police and CHA staff. Councillor Galluccio stressed the importance community building, it builds trust between police and residents. Ms. Harvey said that the police come to the residents’ meeting at Manning Apartments once a month.
Ms. Saracen said the lights are off at ten p. m. at night at Millers’ River. The intercoms do not work after that time so if the tenant has a late visitor, he or she has to go down the elevators to let the person in. Mr. Geary said that in a building where the intercoms are turned off at night, it is because residents have so requested. Mr. Saracen added that there should be mirrors on corners of the corridors, so that tenants can be sure no one is lurking in a dark corridor.
Commissioner Watson suggested setting up meetings of police and residents during the month of July.
Councillor Galluccio asked Commissioner Watson if it would be possible to have patrol officers get out to the developments during the summer. Commissioner Watson answered in the affirmative. He noted that the police would like to know from the residents and the managers the best times for the walk throughs. The CPD would be happy to schedule them.
Councillor Galluccio said that his sense is that after dinner, 6-8 p.m. would be the best times. Superintendent Giacoppo said that CPD is doing that now, park and walks for police visibility even without telephone calls.
Ms. Walker said that in the family housing, it is very helpful to the building managers for the police doing the overtime patrols, to ask “do your live here?” What is your name? Commissioner Watson said that the police take the get written instructions from the managers, and if they want the police to ask specific questions, they can just include the requests in the written instructions.
Councillor Galluccio asked Mr. Russ if the CHA would let the City Council know when the new security coordinator is hired and asked Commissioner Watson to inform the City Council as to the schedule for the upcoming senior seminar meetings. It was agreed that Commissioner Watson and Mr. Russ will notify the City Council as requested.
Ms. Saracen said that with construction going on, there are a lot of people in and out of the Millers’ River Apartment building. Mr. Geary said there have been a lot of contractors in and out, but that situation is temporary. Ms. Walker said that when a contractor comes into an apartment there is always a tenant coordinator there as well.
Commissioner Watson said that the CPD would like to be involved in the interview process of the new CHA coordinator if that would be acceptable to the CHA. Mr. Russ and Mr. Geary said that they would welcome police input.
Councillor Galluccio thanked all those present for their attendance. The meeting was adjourned at four o’clock and twenty-six minutes P. M.
For the Committee,
Councillor Anthony D. Galluccio, Chair