The Gray Berets and Their Computerized Patrols

Not all of those shabby-looking men you see around Harvard at night are muggers. Forget the baggy pants, forget the weather-beaten jackets, and forget the worn shoes. Just look for the gray berets.

The gray berets are the symbol of the Task Force, Chief David L. Gorski's attempt to modernize the Harvard Police. The members of the Task Force--five patrolmen, one sergeant, and Lieutenant Larry Murphy--patrol Harvard property every night in plain clothes and unmarked cars, patrolling special computerized routes. Murphy, the coordinator of the Force, feeds statistics on the time and locations of crimes into the Harvard Police computer, which then tells him what areas the Force should patrol at what times. Soon with the help of a Northeastern University expert, Murphy will evaluate the progress of the Task Force against the goals he set for it last month. And he is sure there is room for progress.

When Murphy joined the Harvard Police Department in 1964, universities required very little training of their cops. Before the University Hall occupation in April 1969, Murphy says, a cop just had to walk around and be like a big brother, advising students as a friend. "Back then, you never had your assaults and larcenies and rapes that you have now," he says, shaking his head.

FBI statistics released last fall list Cambridge among the top ten U.S. cities with the highest overall per capita crime rates. To calculate Harvard's share of that crime rate and determine the impact of his modernizations--including the Task Force--Gorski introduced a new computerized record-keeping system last July.

In the six month period ending January 1976, University policemen handled 102 violent crimes, including 67 assaults and two rapes. Automobile thefts remained a problem, as 106 cars were stolen. High auto theft rates are standard in Cambridge, which last year claimed the highest per capita rate in the country. The Harvard Police computer does not keep track of the number of cars recovered, but sources say that almost all car thefts are for joy rides. In Massachusetts, borrowing a car is merely a misdemeanor, while keeping it is a felony. One Harvard patrolman says that car owners should be particularly wary on rainy nights--car thieves don't like to walk in the rain. Sexual crimes for the six-month period are low. Only exhibitionists and one "Peeping Tom" were arrested, but police say those figures will probably increase "when things warm up."


Despite the statistics, the job of any Harvard cop is far from that of a TV cop. "A police officer in Cambridge is likely to run into a violent crime about once every 25 days," says Captain Jeffrey S. Kahn. "Much of what an officer does is routine, not like Starsky and Hutch bombing around all over. I really admire Kojak, because he can always find a parking spot. Christ, I never can. Most police work just isn't like television."

On some nights drunk students provide Murphy's only excitement. Because undergraduates have the right to be on University grounds, they are less likely to be arrested on disorderly conduct charges than Cambridge teenagers are. "I can arrest a youth from Cambridge for trespassing," Murphy says. "I've done it before and I think it's good. When a student is drunk, I'll just grab his roommate and tell him to take the drunk student home to Mather House or wherever he's going." In winter, he says, the problem is less severe than in the spring, when students gather by the river to drink beer.

Students also get breaks on more serious offenses, so that undergraduates comprise only a small percentage of the arrests made by the Harvard Police. When a Currier House student was caught with six marijuana plants in his room last month, Harvard merely confiscated the plants. Not only did Harvard decline to press charges, but one administrator praised the student for his horticultural abilities. However, the University can prosecute anyone with narcotics. "We would not hesitate to arrest a student if the traffic got bad," Murphy says. "It hasn't really happened yet."

On the other hand, Harvard cops frequently arrest Cambridge youths. Murphy guesses that local teenagers commit over half of Harvard's crimes. One Wednesday night, Murphy and his partner, Jack Stanton, caught a teenager loitering in the Science Center. "I reached for his arm, and he pulled out this bag full of pills," Stanton said later. "Christ, the guy was so high, he didn't even know he had them, so he said that we must have planted them on him."

After a quick trip down to the Cambridge jail, Murphy and Stanton returned to the streets. Five minutes later, they received a call and arrested a drunk Cambridge teenager. "We knew the kid," Murphy said. "We've arrested him three times before, but we'll have to let him go because he's a juvenile." Juvenile courts, he says, are much more lenient than district courts, where anyone 17 years old and over is tried.

Murphy feels that a major problem with Harvard students is not crimes, but emotional instability. Recently he and three other officers spent a Sunday evening trying to restrain a violent freshman by talking with him and having a few drinks together. "It's a pretty common thing," he said afterward. "We've had to deal with four of those cases in the past few days. This student was working on some paper or something, trying to meet a deadline. I guess he got overworked. We set up radio communications with University Health Services and called in a psychiatrist, and in a few hours we calmed him down. But the next day we got another call." The student was later sent to a hospital.

More serious incidents resulted in two suicides and four more suicide attempts during the fall. On the basis of official Harvard Police news releases, the Crimson reported that there had been two suicides and six suicide attempts. The releases were later corrected when officers noticed the abnormal figure, and the error was traced to the new computer filing system. Kahn says that the number of disturbed students at Harvard is just about average for U.S. colleges. Kahn adds that Harvard's suicide rate is not higher than the rate for the average university. "The old story about greater academic pressure forcing more suicides just isn't true," he says.

Although the Task Force is less than two months old, Murphy has set high goals for the program--for example, he wants to decrease larcenies by 10 percent within the next few months. He claims that many larcenies are committed by Harvard employees. "Because of the hours that some crimes are committed, I'd say quite a few thefts are by Harvard people," he says. "We had a rash of thefts in one area and two employees were proven responsible. They were terminated." Murphy also blames Harvard employees for setting off alarms in the doors and windows of University buildings. "Most of the false alarms we get are caused by employee carelessness," he says. "But we can't do anything about the alarms or the crimes committed in the offices."

For those crimes committed outside the offices, one objective of the Task Force is to decrease the response time--the time between a call for help and the cops' arrival at the scene. By patrolling the high crime areas at high-crime times, Murphy hopes that more criminals can be captured red-handed. Recently, a student saw a man rummaging through rooms on the third floor of 8 Prescott St., a freshman dorm. The student phoned the police just as the man became frightened and started running down the stairs. When the man opened the door to Prescott St., two Task Force patrolmen were waiting for him. Meanwhile, upstairs, the student was still on the phone with the Harvard Police headquarters in Grays Hall. In fact, if the Harvard cops are not around when you need them, they will be soon; the average response time for the University, including the Medical Area, is just 2.2 minutes.

Although Murphy's Task Force doesn't fit the traditional man-in-blue image, it can be recognized by the gray berets ("That way we don't shoot each other," one officer explained). "A lot of people think we just hand defendants over to the Cambridge Police," he says. "It's not true. We're a real police department."

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