Eight citizen complaints have been filed against Cambridge Police Sergeant James M. Crowley during his 11 years on the force, including two by black males alleging racial bias, according to internal affairs files made public today.
Sgt. James M. Crowley
Crowley, whose arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. last month sparked a national debate on race that President Obama inadvertently stoked and then had to calm, was cleared of wrongdoing in all eight instances, according to the files provided by the police department.
Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas said Crowley has made or helped make 422 arrests, participated in about 800 criminal investigations, and issued 1,866 citations for motor vehicle infractions and other offenses.
"It is noteworthy that despite Sergeant Crowley's numerous arrests and citations, only 8 citizen complaints have been filed against him, which represents less than 1% of his interactions with the public,'' Haas said in a three-page letter that accompanied the files.
Nonetheless, the files may rekindle questions about whether Crowley, a white officer, engaged in racial profiling when he arrested Gates, a black professor, on a disorderly conduct charge at his house on July 16. The charge was later dropped.
Five of the eight complaints involved allegations that Crowley was rude to people he encountered, including motorists whom he gave tickets. But two of the five also contained allegations of racial bias.
In a 1999 complaint, two black men in a car whose driver got a ticket for driving the wrong way down a one-way street and for having an open container of alcohol said Crowley sarcastically referred to a passenger as a "homeboy."
And in a 2002 complaint, another driver said Crowley and other officers briefly wrongly detained him and a friend because one of the men supposedly matched the description of a light-skinned black man who had just robbed a nearby video store.
"As a young African-American male, I am especially concerned by the lack of restraint the officers demonstrated in this situation," wrote the driver, whose name was redacted in the file, as were all names of complainants. "I am curious if the description of 'Black Male' immediately suspends the rights of all brown skinned individuals within a 10-block radius.''
James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, said today it is difficult to say whether eight complaints represents a significant number in 11 years. That depends a variety of factors, he said, including where Crowley worked in Cambridge and at what time of day.
But Fox said it was hardly surprising that some complainants might allege racial bias.
"Given that law enforcement is still primarily white and they are often interacting with minority citizens, these interactions have a potential for racial conflict, whether it be bias or misunderstanding," he said.
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