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Somerville To Declare Racism A Public Safety And Health Emergency

SOMERVILLE (CBS) – On Wednesday, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the city will issue a local state of emergency declaring racism a threat to public health and safety.

"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," said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

The plan will kick off initiatives developed by Campaign Zero and the Rep. Ayanna Pressley's 10-point plan as the city seeks to demilitarize its police force, increase the diversity of the police force and provide impartial oversight of the department.

Curtatone said Somerville will withdraw from a Department of Defense program that provides military weapons to police departments.

"Our officers are not soldiers on a battlefield, and they should not be equipped with military-grade gear and weapons. Militarizing the police makes it difficult for residents to feel safe approaching and interacting with officers, increases risk, and sets an overall hostile, confrontational tone," said Curtatone

Additionally, the city has filed a petition to remove the internal investigation position from the Somerville Police Superior Officers Association and seeks to replace the position with a civilian oversight committee. The city is also asking for the creation of a state independent special prosecutor to review and prosecute cases of police misconduct. Currently, county district attorneys prosecute police misconduct.

"Having reports of police misconduct investigated by a fellow union member can create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Even when investigations are conducted correctly and without bias, it's understandable that the public might not trust the process," said Somerville Police Chief David Fallon.

Somerville is also considering asking that proposed civilian oversight committee to consider whether the Somerville Police Department 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." In the meantime, Somerville will ask for the state to address what it calls "gaping deficiencies" of the Civil Service system.

"We need to bring new voices and perspectives into the oversight and rank and file of the police department. This committee will play a critical role in establishing and maintaining trust between the community and the police. It will also provide independent guidance on critical policy questions, like how to best address the state's outdated civil service law, which has interfered with some of our efforts to achieve greater diversity in our police force and command staff," said Mayor Curtatone. "If we're serious about advancing compassionate and unbiased policing, everything has to be on the table."


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