Public Safety - Denise Simmons

Public Safety

In April 2020, the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis sent shockwaves across the country, with protests erupting in city after city over the need for police reforms. While the Cambridge Police Department has actually already implemented many of the reforms that other communities are just now calling for, our community was nonetheless impacted by the traumas of events like what happened in Minneapolis. This led the City Manager to appoint a diverse mix of Cambridge residents, with Denise and Councilor McGovern serving as co-chairs, to participate in a Task Force To Reimagine Public Safety. The Task Force worked for months to come up with recommendations on how the City might look to send unarmed first responders to a number of emergency calls, and to take some of the responsibilities currently handled by our police department and place those under the umbrella of a new Department of Public Safety. The report of the process, along with the Task Force's recommendations, is now available online and is awaiting the City Manager’s implementation.

With violent crime and gun violence on the rise earlier this year, Denise has continued to host her periodic "Safe Streets, Safe City" meetings to bring City officials, the Police Department, business owners, members of the interfaith community, and other neighborhood stakeholders together to determine what steps we must take to tamp down on the violence and how to address it at the root causes. These meetings have yielded good ideas and strengthened the collaborations between critical community partners.

Denise is also mindful of the fact that the various social service programs across the City, which provide essential stabilization services, are perpetually overburdened and underfunded (she was proud to lead the charge in our last term urging the City to help fund Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services – and to support these efforts again just this past June). Denise believes that we must continue offering services to the most fragile members of our community, and that means supporting these important programs as much as possible.

Denise has a long track record of working closely with the Cambridge Police Department to ensure that Cambridge residents are not only safe, but also informed. She has pushed to increase the level of communication between the police and the community, such as pushing legislation mandating that neighborhood meetings are convened within 72 hours of public safety concerns arising.

In response to the pleas of many business owners and area residents, Denise led the charge in urging the City to pilot a police kiosk or mini-outpost in Central Square, in order to ensure that the Cambridge Police have a more visible presence in Central Square, and to provide greater peace of mind to those who have shared their concerns about criminal or otherwise off-putting activity in this area, and who otherwise might avoid this area.

Leadership In Working on Behalf of Fire Victims: In her second term as Mayor, Denise has won plaudits for her leadership in the wake of the devastating fire in the Wellington-Harrington neighborhood in December 2016. Over 150 people were displaced by a 10-alarm fire on December 3, 2016, and as firefighters valiantly worked to contain the fire, Denise was on the scene with the City Manager and other City leaders, working to establish a Mayor's Fire Fund that would go on to collect and distribute over $1 million to fire victims. Denise set up the Mayor's Office as the Base of Operations for the City Manager's Office, numerous City Department Heads, the Red Cross, the Cambridge Housing Authority, and numerous community partners for daily strategy sessions throughout December, as the City and its partners worked to assess the damage, triage those who were impacted by the fire, and find both short term and then long term shelter and housing for those who were displaced. In so doing, Denise and the City leaders demonstrated how a city can and should respond in the wake of tragedy, to quickly get the necessary assistance to those who are most in need, and to quickly help people start getting back on their feet.   

Working with tenants of the Cambridge Housing Authority: Throughout her time on the City Council, Denise has continually worked with the Cambridge Housing Authority regarding quality of life issues and safety concerns for its tenants, and she has regularly worked to have a presence at community meetings around these issues. She established educational initiatives that seek to inform and engage women around the issue of domestic violence, and she has participated in a number of domestic violence awareness and preventative campaigns.

Protecting Our Immigrant Community: When Donald Trump became President in January 2017, Sanctuary Cities like Cambridge were immediately at odds with the federal government. Denise repeatedly used her bully pulpit as a City Councilor and as Mayor to assure Cambridge residents that this community would not be bullied into turning its back on the most vulnerable among us. Through her State of the City address and numerous Town Hall meetings, Denise worked to ensure that people would understand that Cambridge shall continue working to protect all of its residents, regardless of immigration status, national origin, or religious beliefs.

Citizens’ Privacy Rights: In prior Council terms, after careful consideration and intense debate, which included input from many Cambridge residents, Denise joined other members of the City Council in voting against the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to install surveillance cameras in various locations in the city. In this current term, Denise worked with the ACLU to bring forward legislation asking the City to draft a clear, coherent, and consistent policy on how it approaches surveillance technology, and this legislation is currently working its way through the City's vetting process so that the City Council and the community can begin rigorous discussions.