By Aleah Floyd
BU News Service
CAMBRIDGE – A casual cup of coffee at the corner joint? Sure. But with a cop? And a reverend? And discussion of LGBTQ rights and other touchy issues? Not quite as common.
It might seem unlikely, but not in Cambridge. In Caffé Nero in Central Square, the main players met with members of the Cambridge community: Police Commissioner Branville Bard Jr.; Liaison, Detective Brian O’Connor; Community and Strategic Partnership Coordinator Adam Patten; and Cambridge LGBTQ+ Commission Co-Chair Aren Stone. They all sat around a reserved table in the coffee shop’s storefront.
The open conversation started with just a few community members but grew to over 20 listeners.
The topics ranged from hometowns to years of service to racial bias. The level of honesty and comfortability made for an interesting Saturday morning, kicking off the first “Coffee with the Commissioner” session of the year.
The casual, monthly (usually) forum offers people the chance for friendly, open conversation with officers, Patten explained.
“It started two to three years ago in the department,” Patten said. “It was originally known as ‘Coffee with a Cop.’”
What began as an informative talk with the police on LGBTQ issues turned into a discussion about the CPD, racial profiling and implicit bias.
Activist and Reverend Irene Monroe expressed her opinion on how officers are being trained and recruited in Cambridge. The long-time Cambridge resident said she was concerned about the relationship between police and the African-American community in the city.
“There is always work to be done,” Bard said.
Fairness and partiality within the department are a part of ongoing training. Bard said the department works case by case to make certain the enforcement fits the offense.
When Bard came to the Cambridge, he wanted to be a part of the sessions to meet the community.
“It is a good way to hear from individuals in a neutral setting where they can ask anything and everything,” Bard said. “As officers, we try to be reflective of the community we serve.”
The department’s outreach and community involvement exhibit dedication to more than just protecting its residents. CPD is committed to being transparent, focusing on social service and enforcing the law, Bard said.
“It is something that you have to work hard at,” Bard said. “Understand that it is all about collaboration and trust. We make it a point to work with all segments of community. The time to build trust is ongoing.”
Community involvement starts with conversation and as Bard responded to questions, concerned Cambridge residents and commission members lent their attention.
LGBTQ+ Commission Co-Chair Stone, said she first got involved while looking for a volunteer opportunity. Seven years later, Stone continues to serve.
“It’s been really great,” Stone said. “The city has been incredibly supportive of us.”
Founded in Feb. 2004, the commission aims to promote positive policies and practices on the health and welfare of all regarding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. This includes serving the community with initiatives like the Police Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL) training and Pride Brunch with the Mayor.
The LGBTQ+ commission also has a family liaison with the Cambridge Public School system.
The changes in the department have not only changed the city but the people, Stone said. The work that began with Police Commissioner Haas shifted the department from what it had been to the success it is today.
The partnership between the CPD and the commission continues to develop due to the cooperation of the volunteers on the commission and Police Liaison Detective Brian O’Connor.
One of the main ongoing projects between the commission and the Cambridge Police is to raise awareness in the community.
In Sept. 2017, CPD worked with Fenway Health to put together a city-wide initiative. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, or SOGL, saw the participation of over 1,000 Cambridge city employees in awareness training.
The sensitivity training created scenarios catered to each specific city member job, ensuring everyone was prepared for any situation that might arise.
“SOGL was set up at the request of the community,” O’Connor said. “Officers receive training while in the academy but this serves as a refresher that benefits everyone.”