It was a small, but telling, act of civil disobedience. Last Sunday, the Harvard University Police Association paid several hundred dollars to rent a twin engine plane to fly over the Head of the Charles regatta. The plane carried a sign: "Support Harvard Police for a Fair Contract."
It wasn't so much what the sign said as what it signified--open defiance and deep-seated frustration with how Harvard police officers are treated.
This has been a trying year for the women and men in blue. So trying that police officers, notoriously tight-lipped servants of their University and their department, are talking about life as a Harvard cop.
In most police organizations, the breaking of ranks is taboo. At Harvard, it used to be that way. But the year 1993 has changed things to the point that internal grievances may be broadcast to 200,000 boat racing fans.
The Harvard police department, officers say, is racked by internal dissension, hampered by mismanagement and an absence of leadership and dispirited over a lack of recognition. Its acting leader is dogged by charges of corruption. Paint is literally peeling off the walls, and the locker room showers, like many things at the 29 Garden St. headquarters, are in a state of disrepair.
"There are big problems in this department," says a senior police official. "We got no leadership, no direction."
Officers say they want more consistent management decisions. They want their longstanding concerns about working conditions and supervision addressed. They want, they say, to get back to the serious business of policing the Harvard campus.
As of yet, officers say, Harvard University has refused to address their concerns.
Officer Robert Kotowski, head of the police association, says the University's attempts to inform the public about campus safety are seriously flawed. Many of the most dangerous incidents are downplayed by the University, and Harvard, officers charge, points out a supposed lack of hazardous duty when patrol officers negotiate for raises.
"If the University chooses not to recognize the serious crime that happens on all its campuses, that's fine," said Kotowski. "But I won't stand by and let them use that against officers in trying to downplay the serious, dangerous job the University police do."
Nearly two dozen Harvard officers have spoken with The Crimson over the last two months only on the condition of anonymity because, they say, the department has a policy that officers should not talk to the media and that they may be disciplined for doing so.
The officers have said they feel their hard work is often ignored or not understood by the community. It is not that Harvard students, faculty and staff are not grateful, they say. It is that many members of the community do not know the extent of the peril their work entails.
Officers charge that the Harvard Gazette, the University's official publication, regularly 'waters down' or omits altogether the most dangerous and threatening incidents in its weekly "Police Log."
On October 11, for example, two Harvard officers arrested a pair of suspects who allegedly shattered the window of the Radio Shack store on Mt. Auburn and stole several hundred dollars in amplifiers and miscellaneous electronic equipment. The suspects also allegedly committed a similar theft in Brookline. Harvard police recorded the incident, and The Crimson printed a story. The only police log entry in the Gazette for Oc-tober 11 concerns a computer theft in Wadsworth House.
Laura Ferguson, managing editor of the Gazette, said early this week that she was unsure about the paper's policy on entries in the police log. Ferguson said she would call back with the policy, but did not. She then did not return repeated phone calls this week.