The Safety Net Collaborative Program and its social harm index sought to use data to prevent harm and crime through a safety net working with the police, schools, and human services.
The Community Development Department launched its Small Business Data Dashboard to connect people to vital information such as demographics, average industry wages, and regulatory requirements – helping residents create and grow small businesses and explore ways to increase their opportunities.
Developed a data-based predictive model that empowered the city to tackle its recycling contamination problem and target outreach to properties more prone to recycling violations, all of which cut the contamination rate to under 6 percent.
Evolving the Policing Model
Violent crime rates have dropped drastically in Cambridge in recent decades, in line with many other U.S. cities. Currently “only three percent of our calls for service are serious crimes,” Deputy Superintendent Daniel Wagner says. “97 percent of what we’re being called to respond to now are complex social issues.”
These issues include substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and juvenile delinquency. They cannot be solved by police officers alone — so the Cambridge Police Department has evolved to act as a bridge between individuals in need of help (especially repeat offenders) and various city departments offering wraparound services. “Policing in Cambridge is not just about arrests,” Wagner says. “It’s about getting people the help that they need.”
Through the city’s juvenile-focused Safety Net Collaborative Program, individuals from the police, health, schools, and human service departments meet bi-weekly to implement a case management approach. Breaking down silos in government, city staff work together to identify services that can help individuals avoid problem behavior that leads to arrests. Research has demonstrated that Safety Net has had a significant impact on juvenile arrests (according to a 2016 study, community arrests have decreased more than 50 percent since its implementation), recidivism, and service utilization (contracting with mental health services has led to an average of 94 outpatient mental health provider referrals per year).
Evidence-based decision-making guides all of this work. With the Cambridge Police Department’s Focused Deterrence Program, officials developed a “social harm index” to identify chronic offenders and the most-effective strategies for use of wraparound services. A mathematical model is used to evaluate the seriousness, frequency, and recency of harmful behavior to identify this small group of serious and prolific offenders. They then are partnered with social service agencies, community leaders, and other criminal justice agencies to implement an evidence-based crime-prevention program to directly engage with offenders in an effort to disrupt their harmful behavior before they re-offend.
This is what the future of policing looks like, Wagner says — “proactive strategies to try and prevent harm and crime through a safety net working with substance abusers and homeless outreach and social workers.”
Data lives at the core of the police department’s work in other ways as well. The department is working to improve how it measures whether racial profiling is occurring within the police force. Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr., who completed a Ph.D. dissertation about racial profiling, is moving the city away from population benchmarking to focus on the reason, duration, and severity of police stops.
With population benchmarking, Bard notes, governments look to see if a police force stops an appropriate percentage of people relative to the demographic profile of the city. But that approach doesn’t offer a full picture of a person of color’s experience with the police force. How long were they held? Were they given a more severe ticket or response than what a white person in the community stopped for the same offense receives? Cambridge’s new system is overseen by the police department’s Office of Procedural Justice, which is focused on monitoring data about police-resident interactions.
The new approach weighs the actions of individual officers against the actions the police department feels an officer could have reasonably taken in any given situation. It collects data at the individual officer level and is expected to be sharing aggregate data with the public by the end of 2020 with a sample dashboard available for the public.