HUPD Pares Down Campus Crime Logs

Citing privacy concerns, agency limits reports to criminal acts

The public police log of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) has ceased to print the bulk of reports taken by campus officers, now listing only criminal incidents according to HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano.

Catalano said the change, which went into effect this week, grew out of concerns about student privacy, but others criticized them as a blow to transparency.

The daily log, which is required for all University police forces by Massachusetts law, previously included records of a wide variety of misdeeds which could not lead to criminal charges—from noise complaints and parking violations to reports of “suspicious activity.”

By contrast, the most recent log, for the week ending July 5 (see page 7), is made up exclusively of burglary and larceny reports. Those complaints which do not involve crimes will now be presented in aggregate statistical form at the start of the log, without detailed information on times, places or circumstances.

Boston attorney Harvey A. Silverglate, co-director of campus watchdog group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the new format was unacceptable, calling a comprehensive police log—including police activities not relating to criminal acts—“an essential part of democracy.”

“In a democracy the governed are entitled to know what their public servants are doing,” he said.

The decision to change the log format hinges on conflicting interpretations of the 1991 state law requiring university police forces like HUPD to make such records publicly available.

The relevant section of the General Laws of Massachusetts (MGL) states that these forces “shall make, keep and maintain in a daily log...all responses to valid complaints received, crimes reported, the names, addresses of persons arrested and the charges against such persons arrested.”

Catalano said that HUPD believes “valid complaints” means “any complaint about criminal activity.”

But Silverglate objects to this interpretation.

“[‘Valid’] is certainly not a synonym for ‘criminal,’” he said. “It’s a common English word well-known to everyone.”

Silverglate added that he would take “valid complaints” to include “a whole variety of human interactions” beyond the criminal, such as noise complaints.

Catalano said that HUPD’s narrower reading is also consistent with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, a federal law predating the MGL provision. The 1990 Clery Act, which has been amended twice, requires police and security forces to publish statistics related to specific campus crimes. It does not mandate either detailed accounts of campus crimes or any public record of non-criminal incidents involving campus police.

Catalano said the change in content was prompted by concerns raised this spring by Harvard administrators after the log included accounts of two attempted suicides by students.

“We had listed the building and we had listed the incident and there was concern that our listing of the incident was going to cause further trauma for the students involved,” he said. “It’s a personal matter.”

The choice to exclude all non-criminal reports—rather than only those of sensitive incidents like this spring’s attempted suicides—was motivated by a desire for consistency, he said.

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