HUPD Dept. Focuses on Investigations

News Feature

The new-look Harvard University Policy Department (HUPD) has been re-cast in recent months as the student-friendly arm of the University.

But at the HUPD, policing is about stopping crime.

Last spring, an undercover police officer posed as the friend of a student during a more than six weeklong investigation into alleged drug trafficking on campus.

The result was the arrest last April of two Currier House students, both members of the Class of 1996. This fall, the two students pleaded guilty on charges of drug possession.

In recent years, the HUPD has also investigated cases ranging from jewel thefts to the mutilation of library books. In the search for the "Widener slasher," police installed surveillance cameras in hollowed-out books.

At the heart of these policing efforts is the HUPD's Criminal Investigations Department (CID).

Lodged in the basement of the HUPD's 29 Garden St. headquarters, the CID is the little-known investigation branch of the university police.

CID detectives routinely research a variety of crimes, but much of the casework involves incidents of petty theft or grand larceny.

In the past year, however, the results of the CID's undercover investigation into drug trafficking have led some members of the Harvard community to question how far the CID should go when investigating students.

Undercover

Controversy over the rights of students who are the subject of undercover investigation began last spring when the HUPD arrested then Currier House seniors William A. Blankenship and Stephen V. David on drug charges

David's lawyer Eliot Weinstein told The Crimson last spring, "It's my view that the Harvard police illegally searched David's room."

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 says in an e-mail message that the rooming contract signed by all students allows for routine property inspections by College officials.

The Handbook for Students does not address the issue of student privacy or police searches of student's rooms.

"Police are much more limited in their ability to search student rooms," Lewis says.

"Police ordinarily would not inspect a student's room without first obtaining a search warrant from the court," Lewis says. "In order to obtain the warrant, the police have to demonstrate probable cause to believe that the room contains evidence of criminal activity. These situations are very rare."

University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr. refuses to comment on either University policy regarding the undercover investigation of students or the legal rights of students under investigations, saying that this information does not belong in the press.

HUPD Chief Francis D. "Bud" Riley says he acknowledges student concern surrounding the incident, but says that his officers did not pose as Harvard students.

Riley says the undercover HUPD officer posed as the friend of a student and never claimed to be from Harvard.

He says student fears about sting operations and constant undercover monitoring of the houses are based on false rumors.

"It's certainly not a type of a use of our resources that I would consider productive," Riley says.

Policing Techniques

The CID was formed as a formal HUPD department roughly 20 years ago, but current HUPD officials could not recall its exact roots.

Before the establishment of the CID, individual HUPD officers often took it upon themselves to conduct follow-up investigations of crimes on campus, Sgt. Richard W. Mederos says.

The department is made up of four detectives and a department head.

Mederos, a former CID detective, was promoted to the post of department head by Riley this year after the chief removed former CID heads Lt. John Rooney and Sgt. Kathleen Stanford.

Currently, the department has three detectives--Richard DeCruz, Dennis Maloney and Paul Westlund--while Riley looks to find a replacement for Mederos as detective.

The purpose of the CID, Mederos says, is to "follow up and investigate crimes that have already happened" as well as to investigate known criminals in the area.

"The CID is a preventative, proactive form of crime prevention," Mederos says.

The detectives in the CID are constantly investigating a variety of cases, the most common type being larceny.

They generally work on cases involving petty theft, tracking down Harvard students' and employees' stolen wallets and handbags, Mederos says.

The detectives are often able to find stolen checks and credit cards by tracing the locations where they were last used, or by identifying suspects through footage from surveillance cameras.

Depending upon the nature of the case the CID may also use forensic sciences, finger-printing, composite sketches and photo arrays, Mederos says.

The majority of this casework is done within the department, according to Mederos.

Once the CID targets a suspect in a particular crime, the detectives need to catch the suspect and conclude their investigation.

The CID employs various techniques in gathering substantial evidence of an individual's criminal activity, including relying on informants, Mederos says.

In the case of a street robber, the CID may set up a decoy (a person posing as a good victim) and wait to catch the suspect in the act.

In addition, Mederos says that one of the CID's major initiatives is to identify significant crime patterns.

Crime pattern statistics have played a critical role under Riley's new plan for policing campus, which emphasizes directing police patrols to the most crime-sensitive areas.

Under Riley's restructuring of the department, the CID detectives have also developed a closer working relationship with HUPD officers.

"There needs to be a level of training and cooperation between the community officers and the CID detectives," Riley says.

The transition to community policing will be helpful to the CID, Mederos says, because the community officers will be more aware of deviations from the normal patterns of life as well as crime trends in certain areas on campus.

Riley has nothing but praise for the CID detectives and the work they have done over the years.

"All of them are highly motivated, intelligent officers," he says.

Investigating Students

When it comes to University policy on investigating criminal activity among students, the administration is unwilling to divulge much information.

"We try very hard to work together with all the administrators [including deans, house masters and proctors]," Mederos says.

"We will act to investigate anything that's brought to our attention from any individual," Mederos says, adding that the CID has an anonymous crime line.

But University officials are guarded in defining their relationship with the CID.

"I don't know anything specifically about the department," Lewis says in an e-mail message.

Lewis is quick to add that the College and the Ad Board do not work with the CID.

"There are many ways information reaches me about students--from other students as well as from officials of various kinds," Lewis says. "However HUPD is, I believe, constrained in what kind of information it can supply to anyone, including the College, while a criminal investigation is active."

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, says he has not contact with the CID, adding that he speaks to Riley when he feels an incident should be investigated.

The Office of the General Counsel is the University branch that has the most interaction with the CID.

"We in this office do deal with the officers in the CID regularly," Ryan says.

The two departments have what Ryan characterizes as "a close working relationship."

Citing the reciprocal nature of the relationship Ryan says, "Sometimes we get information that we pass on to the police department because it belongs there."

The HUPD and the Office of the General Counsel are two co-ordinate parts of the University and both report to the General Counsel, Ryan says.

The Big Cases

While the CID spends much of its time investigating petty thefts, sometimes they stumble upon a case that's much more.

"Every once and a while you get a case that when you begin working on it, it takes on a life of its own," Mederos says.

Mederos found just that type of investigation last June when he got a major Zead in a case that had been plaguing Harvard library officials for years.

The case began when Harvard library officials noticed that over the past two to three years, books and bookplates had been disappearing from the Harvard libraries, Mederos says.

Unable to explain the disappearance or trace the missing books, the library officials compiled a list of the missing items and gave it to Mederos last June.

According to Mederos the library officials began a search to replace the missing books, and in the process found a major lead in the case.

In speaking with a book dealer in Grenada, Spain, the library officials discovered that he had in his possession one of the rare books that had been stolen from Harvard.

Mederos stepped in and traced the book from the book dealer in Spain to and antiques dealer. The antiques dealer said he bought the book from a Cambridge resident, Mederos says.

The investigation centered on Jose Torres-Carbonell, the husband of a graduate student and a native of Grenada.

"The HUPD had reason to believe that he was the one who pilfered of a numerous amount of items from the Harvard libraries," Mederos says.

In an Interview with the HUPD, Mederos says, Torres-Carbonell admitted that he had stolen the missing items and the HUPD obtained a search warrant for his Cambridge apartment.

The HUPD recovered $500,000 of plates, books and prints in Torres-Carbonell's apartment.

The HUPD also found evidence that Torres-Carbonell had shipped more books home to Grenada.

Mederos contacted Interpol, an international policing system, and asked them to stop the shipment.

After the Grenada police received the shipment, Mederos travelled to Spain to inventory and retrieve the stolen items.

Mederos says he retrieved $250,000 worth of books and prints in Spain late this summer.

The HUPD is currently presenting the evidence in the case before a grand jury.

The Harvard libraries have been the focus of other recent cases as well, including that of the "Widener slasher" which was cracked in part due to the assistance of the CID.

In the early 1990s, Harvard library officials were baffled by the unexplained destruction and mutilation of books in the Harvard libraries.

With the help of the CID, state and local police discovered that between 1990 and 1992, Stephen L. Womack mutilated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books at Harvard and Northeastern University libraries.

Womack, a former Widener library employee, also threatened to blow up Widener and Northeastern's Snell Library unless all Jewish staff members were fired.

In a further twist in the case, the police linked Womack to a letter sent to the president of the Belmont Savings Bank, in which Womack threatened to blow up the bank unless a ransom was left in the Widener stacks.

As a result of the investigation Womack was found guilty last spring of attempted extortion and willful and malicious destruction of property.

"The CID is a preventative, proactive form of crime prevention." Sgt. Richard W. Mederos

"There needs to be a level of training and cooperation between the community officers and the CID detectives." HUPD Police Chief Francis D. "Bud" RileyCrimsonGrigory TovbisSgt. Richard W. Mederos