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New Chief Can Surpass Johnson



When people stop to consider that most important posts at any university, the same ones are always mentioned: the president, the provost, the dean and perhaps even various faculty positions.

Few people, and likely none outside the University, would put the police chief on that list. But, as we at Harvard have seen, the police department can greatly affect a campus and the post may have much more direct effect on students lives than that of any top administrator.

The chief sets the tone for the police department--which can either make the University a safer place for all to attend or be riddled with charges of racial discrimination that can tear that same campus apart.

As the University enters the search process for Chief Paul E. Johnson's replacement we hope it considers the less than glorious past and numerous shortcomings that have led us in the past to call for his resignation.

Johnson's biggest failing was probably with race relations on campus. He did nothing about the harassment of Black students by police officers, the most pressing issue facing the department today. The accusations of racism after the police intervened at the Adams House rap concert a few weeks ago is only the most recent occurrence of minority students feeling they receive prejudiced treatment from police.

Much more serious, though, were the events surrounding last year's arrest of Inati Ntshanga '95 for trespassing after being in the basement of Matthews without his Harvard ID. Johnson's denial of any racism in the incident and failure to discipline the officers and act forcefully in the matter contributed to the fiasco.

We hope the new chief has a good track record in dealing with issues of race and will be sensitive to the requirement of policing a diverse community such as ours.

In addition to improving race relations, the new chief should be able to better manage the police department itself. Johnson was notoriously terrible for morale in the department. For instance, he did not know all the names of the officers who worked for him in the small, 62-member department, an ability we expect his successor to master.

Johnson also allowed politics to become a major part of everyday life in the department and demonstrated an inability to deal effectively with unions, as evidenced by the continuing police sniping about work conditions.

Of course, being good at police office work should also be a prerequisite for the job and surpassing Johnson's judgment would not seem too difficult. He is the same chief who allowed charges to be filed last year in the case of two security guard accused of stealing two water coolers from a trash area; the case resulted in more than $90,000 in legal costs to the University.

The next chief could come from either inside or outside the University, and it appears candidates from both areas are being considered. While being at Harvard is not a prerequisite for the job, we believe the new chief should ideally have experience working on college campuses and at the very least show an understanding of the nature of a college community and the unique issues facing an officer on such a campus. We were glad to see that the posting for the chief's job opening suggested that applicants have five years of experience in a college community.

The new chief will be appointed by Vice President and General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall, who has formed a preliminary search committee. And--surprise, surprise given the University's track record--no police officers or students are on the committee.

The University should rectify this problem as soon as possible. We won't bother repeating all our arguments for student inclusion in search processes again, except to say the students are the ones most affected by the new chief--both for good and for bad--and should have a say. It would be particularly appalling if minority student groups whose members have been victims of the department's racism in the past were not consulted.

Additionally, the officers who will have to work with the chief should help in choosing a successor. Their exclusion, apart from removing a valuable perspective, would harm the already shaky departmental morale.

But perhaps what makes us most uncomfortable with the search is Marshall herself. Having the police department under the auspices of the University's top lawyer has resulted in decisions being made to protect the University's legal interests--decisions that do not always coincide with the ideal way to manage a police department.

Marshall has stated on numerous occasions that she thinks Johnson has done excellent job and that alone makes us wary of her choice for the next chief. Coupled with the active vendetta she had demonstrated against security guards who complained about their treatment, we become even more nervous.

We would ask President Neil L. Rudenstine to carefully review any recommendation Marshall eventually makes given her track record dealing with the police. Chief Johnson's successor will shape the Harvard community into the next century; we hope the administration chooses wisely.

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