Cambridge Police Eyeing New Policy To Quickly Disclose Names of Officers Who Shoot Someone — Would Be First In Massachusetts

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Cambridge police would disclose the name of a police officer who shoots someone within two days of the incident as long as it wouldn’t impede an investigation or threaten the officer’s safety, if the department adopts a recommendation by an outside consultant.

“We actually have policy language for releasing a name of an officer that’s involved in a use of fatal force in the future. It would be the first policy of its kind in Massachusetts, and that is also something that we are working on with the unions,” Cambridge police commissioner Christine Elow said during a meeting of the city council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 2 (at 36:10 of the video of the meeting).

Releasing the name of the officer is one of the recommendations of Police Executive Research Forum, a consultant hired by the city to review policies and actions by the Cambridge Police Department in the wake of the fatal shooting by a police officer of a 20-year-old mentally ill UMass Boston student in January 2023.

“Not having a policy on name release distinguishes CPD from other national law enforcement agencies that have implemented such a policy, but the same cannot be said of law enforcement in Massachusetts. While it’s possible that other police agencies in the state proactively release involved officers’ names within days of fatal critical incidents, PERF was not able to identify any,” the consultant’s report states.

Cambridge police didn’t release the name of the officer in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. A judge assigned to an inquest in the case subsequently ordered that police not release the name of the officer until after the inquest was complete.

On January 3, 2023, Cambridge police officer Liam McMahon shot Arif Sayed Faisal, 20, six times as Faisal was advancing toward the police officer with “a long machete-type weapon,” the consultant’s report states. Faisal, a computer engineering student, was within 6 to 12 feet of McMahon when McMahon shot him, witnesses said.

Another police officer at the scene had already fired a 40-millimeter projectile that hit Faisal’s thigh or buttocks. Firing such a projectile is designed to incapacitate a person by causing pain without causing death, but Faisal “smiled and appeared unfazed,” according to the consultant’s report.

A woman who saw Faisal that day described him as “shirtless, bloody, and holding a large knife to his throat” when police were pursuing him, as well as “wild-eyed and frantic, grinning, with huge eyes,” according to the inquest report issued by Judge John Coffey in September 2023.

Faisal was the only child of immigrants from Bangladesh. He hoped to pursue a career in creating video games, according to a February 2023 story by The Harvard Crimson.

A friend later told investigators that Faisal “was sad and depressed” because of his parents’ divorce, that he “had lost a lot of weight in recent months,” and that he appeared to be hallucinating, believing that he “was being followed by government vehicles,” according to the inquest report.

In the back yard at 59 Chestnut Street in Cambridge where police confronted Faisal on January 3, 2023, Faisal walked “briskly … directly at Officer McMahon,” according to the inquest report.

“Faisal initially was holding the knife to his throat, and then held it out in front of him at Officer McMahon,” the inquest report says. “As Faisal approached him, Officer McMahon backed up towards the fence in the rear of the yard. He yelled, ‘Drop the knife, don’t make me do this.’ ”

McMahon fired six times. “Faisal did not fall until the last shot struck him,” the inquest report says.

During the Cambridge Public Safety Committee meeting this past week, a city councilor, Sumbul Siddiqui, asked why the police officer fired six bullets at Faisal.

Elow, the police commissioner, said her answer “is not going to ease anybody’s mind about it.”

“We are trained to shoot to stop the threat,” Elow said (at 17:20 of the video). “And all of the reports, from Liam, he kept shooting until the threat stopped. And that was six shots.”

The inquest judge found that found that shooting Faisal “was justified” because a police officer in McMahon’s position “would reasonably believe that he, along with his fellow officers and others, were in imminent danger of being seriously injured or killed.”

The fatal shooting led to demonstrations in Cambridge organized by left-of-center activists. Faisal’s family and activists in Cambridge have criticized police and called for McMahon’s firing.

City officials are putting together an alternative agency designed to handle low-risk 911 calls that don’t require armed police officers, called Community Assistance Response and Engagement, of which the capital letters spell out CARE.


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