Cambridge City

Committee Report
CRT 2019 #20
Mar 18, 2019 5:30 PM

A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, for a public hearing held on February 27, 2019 to review unsolved and/or ongoing homicide and other investigations in Cambridge, to include “cold” case work and limitations, legal or tactical, on sharing relevant information with the general public.


Department:City Clerk's OfficeSponsors:
Category:Public Safety


  1. Printout




Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair

Councillor Dennis J. Carlone

Vice Mayor Jan Devereux

Councillor Timothy J. Toomey Jr.

Councillor Sumbul Siddiqui

In City Council March 18, 2019


The Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on February 27, 2019 at 2:04 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.


The purpose of the hearing was to review unsolved and/or ongoing homicide and other investigations in Cambridge, to include “cold” case work and limitations, legal or tactical, on sharing relevant information with the general public.


Present at the hearing were Councillor Kelley, Chair of the Committee, Vice Mayor Devereux, Councillor Siddiqui, Councillor Simmons, Police Commissioner Branville Bard, Deputy Superintendent of Police Leonard DiPietro, Superintendent of Police Steven DeMarco, Executive Director Peace Commission and the Police Review Board Brian Corr, City Solicitor Nancy Glowa and City Clerk Donna P. Lopez. 


No one appeared from the public.


Councillor Kelley convened the hearing and explained the purpose.  He noted that the hearing is being privately recorded.  He stated the impetus of the hearing was the incident at Danehy Park, Ms. Holmes and a sense that some cases are stalling and there is concern about communication around those investigations.  He wanted a better understanding of this. 


Commissioner Bard stated that in solving cold cases the police acknowledge that it is important to give the family closure.  He read an e-mail dated 11/29/19 from Deputy Superintendent O’Connor asking police personnel if they were interested in working on cold cases. He said that that District Attorney, who controls much of the file access for homicide cases, was supportive of a cold case unit.  He cited the National Institute of Justice’s definition of a cold case, which is when leads have been exhausted and is not dependent on time.  He stated cold cases do not stop the police from investigating.  There is no statute of limitations on murder so they never officially close.  He spoke about solvability factor on other cases and how as leads are exhausted, police move on to other investigations even if previous ones are open because there is no more work to do on them until new information or opportunities arise like a vehicle VIN number from one event that may be relevant to a past crime.  He stated bikes and skateboard do not have serial numbers and it is difficult to find out who the owner is should stolen property be found as part of some other event.  He stated 74% of murder cases have been solved by the police and that the 2010 clearance rate for murders was 65% nationally.  He cited the statistics. 10 of 62 murders in Cambridge are still open, including 7 that are not currently being worked on due to age and solvability. Councillor Kelley questioned the ten murders open and ten unsolved.  Commissioner Bard explained that cases open but not worked on are considered unsolved.  Councillor Kelley asked were officers assigned to the Holmes Case.  Superintendent DeMarco spoke about evidence and that this comes to the police from the community and then to the state. The DA is in charge of any death investigation. They are the community lead and must vet information before CPD makes it public. He stated DNA, eyewitness or grand jury witness or other information that comes forward helps to solve the investigation and ongoing investigations will get more focus as this type of information is developed.  He stated that if the right information was received this can be solved.  Commissioner Bard stated that the police need the cooperation of DA office, but the Department can run any case it wants. People may, for example, be more willing to speak about a crime later on. Outside DNA and pictures, eyewitnesses are the key.  Ms. Holmes case is not closed, and the cold case unit, when formed, will give the old cases the same attention that current cases are given.  He stated that eyewitnesses do not want to come forward and testify.  Superintendent DeMarco noted that grand jury investigations are crucial to keep information forthcoming, but the DA decides if they happen. 


Councillor Siddiqui asked is there a line of information for families with the DA for the family.  Commissioner Bard responded that all the information is from the DA who must vet everything, but the police can provide information and outreach to families.


Councillor Kelley asked does every homicide have a grand jury.  Superintendent DeMarco replied it is up to the DA to open a grand jury investigation.  Commissioner Bard explained that this is on a case by case basis whether there is grand jury and is determined by DA.


Superintendent DeMarco stated that CPD’s goal is to provide the highest quality of service to victims and families regardless of the outcome.  He stated that the most important thing is to provide resources for the families, witnesses and victims. Arrests and convictions are only part of that. The system does not want to provide more harm.  This is not just about solving crimes; but to connect witnesses and victims to resources and make sure their voices are heard.  Commissioner Bard commented that a victim centric approach is used.


Vice Mayor Devereux asked of the seventeen unsolved cases how many predate 2005.  Commissioner Bard responded seven.  Deputy Superintendent DiPietro stated that there are seventeen unsolved since 1995.  


Councillor Kelley asked does property crime just go away; is there a time frame.  Commissioner Bard stated that there is no definite time frame, but a lot of property crimes do go unsolved.  If there is more information that becomes available, the police will investigate.  Superintendent DeMarco noted that it depends on what entity takes over the instance.  He stated that the Gardner Museum theft is a federal investigation and the relevant statute of limitations may differ given the jurisdiction in charge.  Commissioner Bard commented that a museum theft takes a high level of skill versus the theft of a bike.  He stated that this is it is all on a case by case basis.  He stated that there was multi-jurisdictional theft in Newton and Cambridge property was recovered which is an indication that crimes may be linked and even solved despite the statute of limitations for one of the crimes having expired. 


Councillor Simmons spoke of Charlene Holmes case and asked who is handling this.  She wanted information on language, skills and the method of approach to the family of Ms. Holmes who feels that nothing is behind done on this crime.  Commissioner Bard stated that this needs fresh eyes looking at this case. Fresh eyes on a cold case can be useful. He spoke about constant communication and how sometimes providing an update with no real new information just opens old wounds.  Councillor Simmons asked what the City Council should say to these families.  Commissioner Bard suggested that if Councilors are contacted about such cases, they can urge the family to reach out to police and to provide any new information to help reach closure.


Councillor Kelley spoke about the communication on the Danehy Park incident.  What can people be expected to be told.  Commissioner Bard responded that people should expect to be told as much as they can be told without jeopardizing the investigation or the safety of the public or witnesses.  He spoke about information that is known and unknown and how clearly saying “We don’t know” is not an unfair answer. Councillor Kelley spoke about information that the public could not be told.  Commissioner Bard stated that the information was unknown by police and the tests have come back regarding the murder weapon.  Councillor Kelley stated that if the answer is unknown that should be the response, but the public were told that this is part of the investigation which, arguably, indicated that the police or the DA did, in fact, know but were unwilling to say. He stated that was fine but the communication that something is unknown rather than cannot be shared should be very clear.  Commissioner Bard stated that his job is make the community know what occurred and bring the person who did the crime to justice.  Vice Mayor Devereux stated that language can be a crucial part of the investigation and this is an example of miscommunication.  Councillor Kelley spoke about this being a level of clarity.  It was the DA who stated that this is the subject of the investigation. 


Councillor Kelley stated that deaths involved that are accidental or intentional is this the DA jurisdiction.  Commissioner Bard stated that all communications must go through the DA per state statute.  He stated that the incidents can be investigated in conjunction with the DA because they are the lead authority.  Councillor Kelley asked for major assaults where death can occur it is the same case.  Commissioner Bard said that other than probable or actual death, CPD is in charge of investigations.


Vice Mayor Devereux asked has the cold case unit been created.  Commissioner Bard stated that this will be created in a few months.  The email got 63 responses. This unit will have two detectives that will work on cold cases. They will receive specific training for this job. Councillor Kelley asked if there will be communication from the Police Department that they are working on the specific cases.  Commissioner Bard responded in the negative because they want to find new leads.  Councillor Kelley stated how do we communication that people are not being forgotten.  Superintendent DeMarco explained that anniversaries are acknowledged, and the police look for any unique evidence on the anniversary of an event and check in with families and loved ones on the anniversaries to see if there is new information.  He stated that confidential sources are looked for and cultivated.  He also stated that social media and Bridgstat is also used. 


Councillor Kelley the woman who died on Cambridge Street from a communication standpoint it happened and that was it.  Commissioner Bard stated that the DA and the Cambridge Police Department understand all that happened in this case; it is not a homicide.  Not all death investigations are homicide investigations, but the DA is still in charge. Councillor Kelley asked if there are important leads will this be communicated to the public.  Commissioner Bard stated that if there is new information that arises, they will communicate appropriately with the public but will not issue updates just for the sake of issuing updates. The press is used by asking that if anyone was in area at such a time and saw anything, could they please contact the Cambridge Police Department.  Councillor Kelley noted that unless there is something new to chase there will be no communication.  Commissioner Bard responded that anniversaries are leveraged and if there are any more information, please contact the Cambridge Police Department.  He further stated that the Public Information Officer at the Police Department gets the information out to the general public.  Commissioner Bard stated that unsolved deaths are acknowledged on social media. 


Vice Mayor Devereux stated that there are expectations that crimes are constantly being worked on and often solved as happens on a 60-minute CSI-type show.  Commissioner Bard stated that these expectations are the CSI perspectives and do not reflect real life which is rarely that simple.  Councillor Simmons spoke about media gratification.  This sets up an unrealistic exception in the world of reality.


Councillor Simmons stated that because Councilors are involved in the community on the anniversary date she urged the Cambridge Police Department to let the City Council know that this is going to happen because the families contact the City Council and people ask Councilors questions about the status of these cases.  Commissioner Bard stated that when the cold case unit is formed the City Council will be notified.


Councillor Kelley opened public comment.  No one appeared and public comment was closed.


Councillor Kelley thanked all those present for their attendance.


The hearing adjourned at 2:51 P.M.


                                                                      For the Committee,



                                                                      Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair

                                                                      Public Safety Committee


Meeting History

Mar 18, 2019 5:30 PM Video City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft