The Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on December 16, 2014 beginning at 5:33 P.M. in the Ackermann Room.
The purpose of the hearing was to review the City's Emergency Response/Preparations when dignitaries visit the City or when there is a major even occurring in Cambridge.
Present at the hearing were Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Committee, Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, Councillor E. Denise Simmons, Richard Rossi, City Manager, Gerry Reardon, Fire Chief, Jack Albert, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Joe Wilson, Deputy Superintendent of Police and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.
Also present was Carol Weinhaus and James Williamson.
Councillor Kelley convened the hearing and explained the purpose. Councillor Kelley opened public comment. No one appeared and he subsequently closed public comment. He stated that his Harvard Kennedy School classmates were somewhat surprised by the security associated with the Vice-President coming to Cambridge and that things like the Ferguson decision and the mass shooting by a marine in PA raise questions about what we expect of our police officials. He stated that he is concerned about the militarization of the police. He stated that we need to think about what police officers and fire fighters are being asked to do. Officials, public safety and the public need to think about what a Ferguson looks like in Cambridge. He did not know that Cambridge has an armored car. City Manager Rossi stated that the City Council was notified about this on the agenda to which Councillor Kelley pointed out that calling something a "Rescue Vehicle" does not properly bring to mind the armored car-like vehicle Cambridge actually has. Mr. Rossi stated that the city's response to incidences is not done in a military, tactical mode but that each one has a different response. There is a difference when the FBI asks Cambridge to provide tactical details. Mr. Rossi stated that the police and fire departments are conservative in their handling of these incidences.
Councillor Kelley stated that it does not take much to turn an otherwise peaceful protest into a tactical event. Councillor Simmons wanted to know the process when a dignitary visits and who bears the cost. She wanted to know the type of training that the police get in instances such as Ferguson. How do you get called for the special jobs and what is the training. She commented that the Crowley/Gates Report talked about discretion and deescalation.
Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that Cambridge is a leader in fair and impartial policing. Deescalation is a tool that police officers are trained to use. He stated that regarding the last two protest marches; marchers came up to the police and thanked them for keeping the protesters safe. He stated that this is part of the training and providing resources where demonstrators can be safe and keeping the public safe. Deputy Superintendent Albert stated police, through following Twitter and Facebook as well as coordinating with other public safety agencies, had received notice that the protestor were coming through Cambridge and the police were prepared and coordinated as best as possible with whatever march leaders they could identify. Members of the tactical unit were deployed but not in a threatening mode. The protestors were met in Cambridge and CPD directed traffic so that the protestors could express their concerns peacefully and safely as is their right. The Harvard Square demonstration was being made up as it was going on, as no permits were requested, so it was difficult to do much besides respond to events as they occurred. Drivers were asked to turn off their cars because demonstrators were lying under cars.
Councillor Carlone asked if a permit is needed and if there is anything less lethal than a toy gun. City Manager Rossi stated that tasers are less lethal, but had proven deadly elsewhere. He stated that there were incidents that questioned whether tasers were a tool that Cambridge wanted to use and eventually the decisions was "no."
Fire Chief Reardon noted that sometimes people just want an audience and do not need lots of effort expended to deter them from attention-grabbing exploits. He explained that when there was no audience a protester came off the roof.
Councillor Kelley asked if there are trained negotiators. City Manager Rossi responded in the affirmative; there are 7-10 trained negotiators. They go through certified hostage and crisis training. Mr. Rossi stated that in l980 a water department employee was harassed by a fellow employee and Mr. Boyle as a negotiator talked the man down. Mr. Rossi spoke about the important of the armored vehicle; from a rescue mode not from an attack mode. Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that this is a regional asset and is used by other communities, if needed. The other communities in the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) area are Boston, Brookline, Somerville, Everett, Chelsea, Revere and Quincy. The vehicle is called a "Bearcat" and is capable of moving into fire and other hazardous areas without exposing its occupants, can hold medics and do other things in a general response mode.
Councillor Kelley questioned what else Cambridge has for equipment. The city's specialized equipment that might surprise people are the bomb dogs, hazmat/bomb robots, and the Bearcat and assault rifles for special units. Mr. Rossi stated that when the Vice President, President or high officials visit they come with their own high level of protection. A region wide meeting is held by the Secret Service at their office and resources are discussed. Councillor Simmons asked how many Cambridge personnel are involved. The Secret Service brings their own special forces such as sniper teams that patrol the buildings. Cambridge has 5-6 sniper teams, called "over watch teams." There are 2 officers per team. The Secret Service outlines the level of threat and the route to be traveled, what needs to be shut down and so forth. Cambridge police works with the Secret Service and all action is based on the worse case scenario. Mr. Rossi stated that at the same time Cambridge residents need to be protected as if an event does occur the City cannot leave its own residents unprotected simply because a dignitary is in town. Councillor Kelley stated that SRT is essentially a swat team. Mr. Rossi stated that the police would be backed up if there was a hazardous material incident because the fire department is the leader with the police department providing backup support such as crowd control and traffic management. If the President or the Vice President spends the night fire personnel are deployed to watch elevator panels and to attest that there is no fire in the building should an alarm be sounded in an effort to expose the VIP to harm as they leave the building due to a fake call. Specialized staff is also standing by should a hazmat or bomb incident occur.
Councillor Simmons commented that it is amazing to see how much of our resources are used to keep 1 - 2 people safe. Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that the Governor is protected by the state police. If the Secret Service is covering someone, it is a high level dignitary. Cambridge police will assist in movement of dignitaries by conducting ‘rolling roadblocks' to move convoys through the City quickly. Councillor Carlone asked if there is something in the air to protect dignitaries how is the airspace rated. Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that it is usually the Secret Service, which covers for a high level dignitary that will restrict air space. Helicopters are used by the state police, but Cambridge may ask for them in special circumstances, such as getting visual assistance for remote events like a fire in the Alewife Reservation. There are four state helicopters in use and Cambridge police can talk with the helicopters.
Councillor Kelley stated that there are 25 SRT and includes snipers. The negotiators are separate. Deputy Superintendent Wilson explained that they have no automatic weapons. SRT have semi-automatic weapons. Councillor Kelley asked if they have tear gas. Deputy Superintendent Wilson responded in the affirmative. He stated that the bomb unit has robots. EOD have the bomb dogs. There are 5 EOD and 2 in training in January. EOD officers have that as their full time duty. The vehicles that have the dogs also have appropriate equipment to identify and handle bombs. Chief Reardon stated that there is a robot that provides readings on hazardous material in real time. Firefighters have holsters to keep a fire arm safe if working on a victim. There are 85-87 hazmat techs and everyone is a firefighter as well. There are 12 tactical medics that support CPD. There is a hazmat task force that goes proactively to major events as a smaller First Response force. The Secret Service knows what the City can do and will use the resources of the fire department when needed. The Fire Department does sweeps with CPD's EODs and specialized equipment for chemicals, radiation and potential bomb concerns. Even with dignitaries visiting, there are a lot of suspicious package calls every day that require a lot of equipment to address. Councillor Carlone commented that much equipment is needed by the fire department for a range of situations. Chief Reardon responded in affirmative and noted that mutual aid with nearby communities helps fill gaps. Mr. Rossi stated that much thought goes into the purchase of fire equipment because it is custom equipment, it must fit into the fire station and be able to travel and turn on city streets. The bids on this equipment can run 70 to 80 pages in length. Councillor Carlone asked if there is demand for an additional fire station. Chief Reardon stated that the city is in good shape. Mr. Rossi stated that the Charles Flaherty Bridge was an area of concern.
Deputy Superintendent Wilson spoke about the tactical patrol force (TPF) of 50 officers, independent of the swat team. They get crowd control training in things like wedges, formations, and close order drill type movements. The green vests are used for visibility. Green vests are used for the dance party, for example, to know where the CPD resources are. They have equipment called "turtle" gear that looks like a catcher's equipment and a 5 foot plastic baton. They are not always deployed wearing this equipment, though. When they are not on special details, these specialized officers have regular police patrol jobs. Tactical force officers keep their equipment with them to allow for flexibility in responses. The police have a large truck to transport about 15 officers; it looks like a large bread truck. SRT equipment is in their cruisers. TPF and firefighters have gas masks which are filtered and more sophisticated self-contained breathing apparatus for tactical medics and hazmat response personnel. Councillor Kelley asked if there is first responder training. Both Chief Reardon and Deputy Superintendent Albert responded in the affirmative. Chief Reardon explained that there are 83 paramedics (advanced life support) and 160 Emergency Medical Technicians.
Councillor Carlone asked about the communication system. Chief Reardon stated that the entire city force is on an independent secure communication system. Cambridge's system has tied all the systems together, to include the Health Alliance and the Housing Authority. Police and fire have 16 channels that they use daily. The equipment has some encryption capability. Federal system has started using Cambridge's system because it is a good system. Mr. Rossi stated that the riots in the 1970s in Harvard Square triggered this communication system. Then police chiefs started working together and then the fire chiefs started working together.
Mr. Rossi stated that if there was concern for public safety Cambridge would set up its own response operations without waiting for direction from the State Police or Secret Service. He stated that an incident commander is always on call, along with appropriate staff to operate necessary equipment. Chief Reardon spoke about the training for all the equipment. Deputy Superintendent Wilson stated that the police department has unique policing and there is roll call training. Every year there is one week of training and special weapons training. Mr. Rossi added that there is city-wide training, MBTA, state police and business community training. He stated there is a constant review of training. Chief Reardon stated that divers, hazmat, paramedic training is done with everyday active training, not usually as take-out training. There are 3-4 Fire Companies pulled to do unit-wide training such as hose training, drug paraphernalia training, etc. This training has to be repeated many times to get the whole department. He explained the criteria that are reviewed for ISO certification which the fire department received as of March 2015. The review including random fire hydrant flow testing and making sure they are marked appropriately. Black is out of services, then Red, Orange, Blue.
Councillor Carlone asked about stress for personnel in the police and fire departments. Mr. Rossi stated that there are officers that are trained for critical stress management by each department. There is a working relationship with Cambridge Health Alliance and personnel are provided for additional trauma support. Deputy Superintendent Wilson noted that there is a need to allow for post-event decompression before sending officers back to work and Police Chaplains are available.
Councillor Kelley thanked all those present for their attendance. He felt that the City will see an increased need to do training. Mr. Rossi stated that Cambridge is lucky to have Commissioner Haas and Chief Reardon that adjust the training to real life issues and situation dependency. City Manager Rossi stated that Cambridge has the resources needed in this community.
The hearing adjourned at 6:55 P.M.
For the Committee,
Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair
Public Safety Committee