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Somerville to declare systemic racism a public safety and health emergency

“No one should fear for their lives because of the color of their skin,” Mayor Joseph Curtatone said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone spoke alongside Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Governor Charlie Baker in April.
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone spoke alongside Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Governor Charlie Baker in April.Nicolaus Czarnecki/BH

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone will declare systemic racism a public safety and health emergency and usher in a series of reforms in line with recommendations from an antiviolence organization and a group of state elected officials of color, he announced Wednesday.

The city’s new initiatives, adopted in response to the national outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other people of color killed by police, include the establishment of a diverse Civilian Oversight Committee for police and a renewed push to get a police union to agree to body cameras for officers, the city said in a statement.

“No one should fear for their lives because of the color of their skin,” Curtatone said in the statement.”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.”

The initiatives are based on recommendations from Campaign Zero, an organization working to end police violence, and a 10-point plan released Tuesday by US Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston and other local elected leaders of color. That plan calls for both civilian review boards and body cameras for police.

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The president of the Somerville Police Employees Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.

Somerville is also looking to remove an internal investigation oversight position from the Somerville Police Superior Officers Association to “eliminate the inherent conflicts of interest arising from police officers internally investigating allegations of misconduct by fellow officers,” the city said.

Contact information for that union could not be found Wednesday night.

Curtatone also plans to call for “the creation of an independent special prosecutor at the state level to review and where appropriate to prosecute cases of potentially criminal police misconduct rather than leaving this authority with county district attorneys,” the city said.

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The mayor also pledged to enact policies that would ensure money confiscated through criminal investigations goes only toward social service programs or police training on implicit bias, de-escalation tactics, mental health, or crisis intervention, the city said.

Curtatone also called for a statewide effort “to address the gaping deficiencies of the Civil Service system” and pledged to launch a civilian review in Somerville to consider seeking a legislative opt-out for state civil service requirements so police can hire and promote officers who reflect the city’s diversity.

Somerville Police Chief David Fallon expressed support for the city’s slate of reforms.

“We have been systematically transforming our approach to policing from an outdated model focused on arrests to one that acknowledges and responds to the needs of the community and is focused on compassion, de-escalation, and crisis intervention,” Fallon said in the statement. “I’m proud that our officers are committed to continually evolving how we protect the health and welfare of our community. But we have more work to do.”


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.