Police Work Amid Damage, Disrepair

A University-commissioned report on 29 Garden St., the home of the Harvard Police Department, has prompted new concerns and exacerbated old fears about possible health risks to the people who work there.

In interviews conducted during the past week, former and current police officers have talked with deep trepidation about the structural integrity of the building. Much of their unease has been prompted both by their own health problems and the similar suffering of co-workers and friends.

The president of the police officer's union, locked in tense negotiations for a new contract, is making an issue of the working conditions at 29 Garden St., just as Harvard continues piecemeal renovations of the building.

During the past week, the union president, Robert Kotowski, spoke repeatedly with The Crimson to voice concerns about the working conditions of his fellow officers. Kotowski wants a full investigation of the health risks associated with working in 29 Garden St.

"I'd like some answers," says Kotowski. "I'd like some answers as to why a police department is being renovated but nothing is being done to improve the working conditions for the police officers."


Twelve other Harvard University police officers have agreed to interviews this week to discuss their complaints about working conditions within the department. They talked of their own problems breathing on the job, the prostate troubles of four or five officers and, in particular, the cancer deaths this year of two colleagues.

None, however, would speak for the record, saying the department has a policy that officers should not speak to the media and may be disciplined for doing so. But Kotowski says his views reflect those of many officers. "I can honestly say without a doubt that this is the consensus of the department," he said.

Five public health experts from around the country, contacted this week and informed of the officers' comments,said they, too, believe the situation is worthy ofinvestigation. The experts said they could make nostatements on the specific risks posed to 29Garden St. workers without personally examiningthe building.

The University-commissioned report examined therisks posed by asbestos contained in theresidences, freight elevator and two trash andlaundry rooms on various floors of the apartmentbuilding. In addition to housing the policedepartment, the building is also home to more than150 first-year students.

The report, dated July 1993, identified anumber of asbestos-contaminated areas within thepolice station, including the first floor propertyroom, the men's and women's bathrooms, the officerlocker rooms and the first floor police task forceroom.

But the experts, who were read portions of theHarvard-commissioned report, cautioned thatasbestos was probably not the cause of specifichealth problems in the building.

The more likely cause of health problems, theexperts said, are personal habits, such assmoking, or poor conditions common to many olderbuildings.

A Crimson investigation reached no conclusionon whether there was any link between healthproblems among police officers and the conditionof the building. But the investigation made threefindings:

. Longstanding maintenance problems, which theUniversity has allowed to go uncorrected, havehurt the quality of the police officers' workinglife.

. Asbestos was removed from the police stationearlier this year at the same time officers andothers worked in the building. Health experts saythat such removal significantly increases thehealth risk posed by asbestos, although the levelof exposure depends on what precautions are used.

. Asbestos-containing floor tiles andasbestos-containing pipes, named in theUniversity-commissioned report as possible sourcesof "minimal" danger to workers, are in a state ofdisrepair throughout the police departmentoffices.

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