Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Talks Justice, Civic Engagement at Radcliffe Day


Church Says It Did Not Authorize ‘People’s Commencement’ Protest After Harvard Graduation Walkout


‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address


In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises


Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

Gorski Left His Marks

Will They Ever Heal?

By Francis J. Connolly

"Cambridge cops are paid to get you into trouble. Harvard cops are paid to keep you out of it."

A few years ago that warning, traditionally delivered to nervous freshmen by worldly upperclassmen and proctors, was in vogue. The memory of how city police helped the University administration teach student demonstrators a lesson during the 1969 strike was still painfully fresh. So were recollections of how the Harvard police, who had intentionally kept a low profile in 1969, were fond of going easy on students, often handing out fatherly lectures when summonses, or even worse, were in order. If the Cambridge department were filled with hard-nosed Sgt. Fridays, well, the popular wisdom had it that the University police operated more along the lines of "Car 54, Where Are You?"

But unlike most Harvard traditions, the University police department's paternal image is undergoing an acute change. Once a refuge for portly janitors from the Buildings and Grounds Department, the Harvard force is in the midst of a transition that administrators predict will make it a more professional, scientifically-oriented security force. Bulging waistlines are definitely out, and fatherly lectures are now more likely to focus on crime prevention than "why-you'd-really-better-stay-sober-on-Tuesday-afternoon." The "new look" has sharply reduced the University's campus crime rate, Joe B. Wyatt, vice president for administration, is fond of saying. Unfortunately, the change has also touched off a sharp debate within the department, a conflict between old and new that threatens to divide the force permanently. Old soldiers never die, they say, and the old-timers on the Harvard force, who remember best the days before the 1969 strike, apparently intend to go down fighting.

"They tell us we're professionals now, that we're supposed to be scientific cops just like on T.V. Christ Almighty, people pay $7000 a year so their kids can go here, and they want me to play Kojak with them. No way," a Harvard policeman with over 10 years' experience said last month. What bothers many of the officers--and at the same time, the Police Association that represents them--is their feeling that the current police administration, in its effort to increase efficiency and take an aggressive stand against the outside troublemakers, is willing to ignore the officers' needs and opinions. "The very same thing that the students were fighting for [in 1969], that's what's bothering us now," Laurence F. Letteri, president of the Police Association, says.

The focus of both Wyatt's pride and Letteri's ire is the internal reorganization of the Harvard force begun in 1975 by David L. Gorski, former chief of University police. Gorski, a "scientific cop" with a tough-guy image, came to Harvard in late 1974 intending to remake the University force in his own image. Drawing on his municipal experience, Gorski instituted a computer system to analyze crime statistics, a specialized crime-prevention unit, and a special task force assigned to high-crime areas. The new system, however, disrupted the traditional union method of assigning shifts according to seniority, rather than a "scientifically determined" need. Then Gorski called a symbolic halt to the "nice-guy era," announcing in November 1975 that Harvard police would no longer simply warn non-student trespassers, but arrest them. Violent crime dropped over 50 per cent; tempers soared considerably higher.

Unfortunately Gorski's smoothness in selling the plan to University administrators did not extend to his dealings with the officers. The Police Association objected, as one might have expected, to Gorski's imposition of a hiring freeze and to his brusque manner in shaking up what once had been a very comfortable department. But the union also had a new gripe; the changes, they said, were so drastic that they lowered morale in the force. Letteri and Henry Wise '18, the union's attorney, made the issue a key factor in contract negotiations last winter, saying they would not discuss monetary issues until the University came up with a solution to the "morale question." Harvard did: Gorski announced his resignation on March 18.

But if Harvard's administrators thought the contract dispute was only a reaction to Gorski's sandpapery personality they were clearly wrong. Even after Wyatt named William A. Lee, a personnel administrator in Buildings and Grounds, as acting chief in April, the talks still broke down more often than a soap-opera heroine and still show all the signs of clinical death. As last summer wore on, with both sides trading charges and the new contract still unsigned, it became evident that the real question was far more basic than mere personalities: Given Harvard's firm commitment to a force organized along modern, scientific lines, could the University ever reach agreement with a union committed to traditional labor practices that sprang up decades ago? Would one side have to give in?

Certainly the police administration shows few signs of wavering in its new approach. "If Chief Gorski came through the door today, he would see the department being run the same way as when he left," Lawrence J. Fennelly, an agent in the crime prevention unit, says. Indeed Lee, who had no police experience before taking over the department, says his technique of handling his new job has been to supervise the supervisors: to let the assistants who came in with Gorski, and who clearly think like him, to decide many substantive issues. "They have the title, so let's give them the responsibility to make the decisions," Lee says; his job is mostly to make sure that the decisions get made.

Harvard certainly has reason to believe it has found a winner in its new organizational set-up. Not only has the task force concept apparently precipitated a drop in violent crimes, but administrators believe the introduction of scientific crime-prevention techniques can pay off financially. About 60 per cent of robberies on campus can be prevented by awareness of simple means to prevent theft, Arthur Fitzhugh, another agent in the crime prevention unit, says. Moreover, he maintains, crime prevention can be built in to many University buildings, in the form of modern lighting and alarm systems. But such systems should be the work of experts, he says; Harvard only wastes money by trying to design its own systems for new buildings, systems which members of the crime prevention unit may later deem unsatisfactory. By relying first on members of the unit as in-house experts, the University can save both time and money, he says.

In fact, it is this attitude of expertise that characterizes the department's "new look." Staffed heavily with crack specialists such as Fennelly and Fitzhugh, the police administration clearly sees itself as having passed out of the fatherly-security-guard stage to emerge as a group of experts on a par with, say, the analysts in the Office of Fiscal Services. They are experts with a service to sell the rest of the University; they are, as Fitzhugh says, the type of person to whom a dean will come to say, "Look, this is your bag, I want to find out what to do. I need a solution--make it cost-effective, but tell me what it is."

That same attitude, however, is part of the very large bone currently lodged in the craw of the Police Association. The union, of course, insists that it is hardly against developing a professional spirit, and it certainly does not have a stake in seeing an increase in crime. What it objects to is while that air of expertise develops in the department staff, it does not figure the attitude of the beat patrolmen who have to carry out the new directives. "Since we've had this new system it secins like we're drifting away from the students, which is not right," Letteri says.

Of course, money also plays a key role in the contract dispute--but again, there is a twist. Letteri and the other negotiators last spring rejected Harvard's offer of a 5 per cent increase, retroactive to last January (an offer the University has since withdrawn), arguing that the increased workload implied under Gorski's organizational scheme should earn them a larger increase. Through attrition, Gorski's hiring freeze has reduced the size of the force from over 60 officers to 42.

Such a drain in personnel, Letteri says, has resulted in larger areas for beat patrolmen to cover, and the decreased effectiveness of regular patrols. The difference that the remaining patrolmen must make up, he argues, is worth more than 5 per cent.

Implicit in Letteri's argument is the assumption that if the department spent less money on technology and systems experts, and more on beat patrolmen, there would not be a contract problem. Harvard now employs 42 patrolmen--the same as MIT--but also 27 "sworn supervisors" and even more staff personnel, none of whom belong to the union. The MIT staff is less than half that. In the union's eyes, Harvard would be better off spending its money the way MIT does--which, coincidentally, would mean a proportionately larger union payroll.

Even more important, though, the Police Association sees the reorganization Gorski started as a threat to the union. As Letteri says, "The two big issues are job seniority and job security"; and he thinks neither concern seems to fit well into the new department structure. What the University considers simple measures to insure effective police work--such requirement of frequent physical examinations--have become, in the union's eyes, little more than sophisticated union-busting ploys. Neither side can be faulted for its concern; the problem is, in fact, that both Harvard and the union have arguments that are at least partially valid, but which deal with different conceptions of how the department should operate. The union's argument belies hankering for the older view of the force as a group of hired guards working set hours; Harvard's emphasis betrays its conception of the force as a group of professionals who can work more flexible hours because they focus on expert problems.

The question that best illustrates this is the issue of task force representation. Presently, the six members of the task force work on flexible "crime-specific" shifts, assigned to certain times and areas as crime statistics vary. This, however, runs counter to the traditional union practice of assigning all shifts on the basis of seniority, with the most experienced officers getting the best hours. The most likely way out of the dilemma would appear to be either the elimination of the task force or an agreement excluding it from the bargaining unit, and therefore exempting it from union seniority rules. Neither route, however, is popular.

Edward W. Powers, associate general counsel for employee relations, said last summer Harvard is firmly committed to the concept of the crime-specific task force. "Needs have changed," he said; "They're being totally unrealistic if they think we're going to go back on that." Powers also believes the union should adhere to what he says is one of its own proposals, made last spring, to exclude the task force from the union.

Letteri, however, maintains that he never made such an offer, and that it would not be in the best interests of the union. "This is how they would do away with all seniority," he says: once the task force were excluded from the bargaining unit, Harvard could eventually transfer more and more of the officers into it, leaving the Police Association a memberless shell. The question, Letteri says, will probably have to be decided through mediation. He will not, however, rule out the possibility of filing an unfair labor practice charge against the University, for allegedly failing to comply with the seniority provisions of previous contracts. At the same time, Powers implies Letteri and the union might also be guilty of an unfair practice, for allegedly backing out of the supposed task force settlement last spring. Whoever is right, it is clear there is no love lost at the bargaining table.

The same applies to the dispute over job security. The key point is Harvard's demand that officers submit to frequent physical examinations (how frequent? A good question: Harvard first said "bi-annual" checkups were the rule, but outraged union officials, armed with dictionaries, protested the mandated twice-yearly checkups. Harvard, armed with a few dictionaires of its own, clarified the order to read "once every two years.") Powers's point is simple: "If a guy's going to carry a gun, he's got to be able to carry it, he's got to be able to see clearly and react quickly." Letteri, on the other hand, wants a guarantee that officers who fail the exams will be allowed to remain in the force on light duty. Otherwise the department could use the physicals as an excuse to weed out the uncooperative officers: "You're bound to fail one sooner or later," he says. But such a guarantee, which would have been simple in the days when the University police were little more than security guards, will not wash in an era when they are trying to be "real policemen." "We just can't justify having that many men on light duty," Powers says.

The dispute, because it strikes at the central issue of how the force should be organized, probably will not result in an easy solution. The minor issues, such as morale, will soon be settled--both sides are awaiting a report, due within the month, by John T. Howland, a police management specialist called in by the University last May, to suggest ways of improving communication and morale in the force. But Howland will have nothing to say about the context of the negotiations, and he is hardly likely to recommend a return to the low-profile, fatherly-old-guard days. Rather, the issue of change is one that Harvard and the union will have to thrash out at the bargaining table, whenever they choose to resurrect the stalled talks.

Whatever the result of that thrashing, however, the two sides realize that there are definite limits on how far they can compromise. Even if it wanted to, the University probably could not return to an "old-fashioned" police force; the demands of such a large and diverse campus, located close to a major intersection such as the Square, make a large security force, capable of taking its "aggressive stand against the outside," a necessity. Harvard cannot afford a low-key, "service-oriented" police force such as MIT's. As James Olivieri, chief of police at MIT, notes, Harvard's location makes it impossible to have a force with such "a low degree of activity" as MIT's. Like it or not, the "new look" of the Harvard force is here to stay.

The final question is, then: What will it look like in the future? As the University police undergo more and more professional training--a regimen that now includes a stint at the state police academy, classes in arrest and booking procedures, and frequent firearms practice--the tendency would seem to be towards a more efficient but less student-oriented force. Yet while William L. Backman, coordinator of training for the department, agrees that the force is changing, unavoidably moving away from the fatherly mode, he maintains it is still possible for the department to retain its distinctive character as a campus police force, Indeed, Backman argues, the force must recognize the different circumstances in which it finds itself: "It's very possible to be very professional in the way you enforce the law. But you have to be very cognizant of who you work for--which is Harvard University."

Whether the department can keep that in mind, of course, is an open question--one that the next few months of negotiation should go a long way towards answering.

Whether the department can really keep that in mind, of course, is an open question--one that the next few months of negotiation should go a long way towards answering.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.