Harvard's campus is about to become significantly less safe.
That, at least, is what the University's police officers and security guards are saying about a number of proposed changes that promise to reduce the department's budget.
If news of budgets cuts sounds strange to students who have been reading about Police Chief Paul E. Johnson's plans for costly new community policing measures, it should. Johnson's words are part of a police department strategy of misleading University Hall administrators like Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III who are angry about police harassment of minority students.
Publicly, the police department's administration says it's interested in increasing patrols and security all over campus, particularly in the houses. The idea-- a good one, if Harvard had any intention of implementing it--is to force officers to get to know students, creating a crime prevention network and building trust with undergraduates.
But privately, the department is working out ways to stretch campus security thinner and distance Harvard police officers and security guards from the people they serve.
Consider two ideas that Johnson and department administrator Herbert J. Vallier are believed to favor, according to reliable sources:
1)The lay-off at least a dozen of the department's approximately 85 guards. Officials would likely justify cuts by nothing that the guard unit has lost contracts at the Business and Law Schools to private security firms.
But the reality is that lay-offs would further deplete a guard service that has already lost 10 percent of its force to attrition. That would mean fewer familiar faces for students. And financially, the move would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. A smaller unit means more guards would have to do extra shifts, which would force the department to foot the bill for expensive overtime hours.
2) A severe curtailment of overtime hours for police officers. who call in sick won't be filled. Instead, patrolmen would cover twice the territory, slowing response times and possibly imperiling security in situations where there is more than one emergency on campus at the same at time.
One police source insists that lieutenants have already been offered financial incentives for not calling in officers for overtime hours. But a high-ranking officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, disputes that account.
Officers agree that Vallier, who has been praised for his steady hand during his first year in the department, is the force behind these changes. Reached at home yesterday, Vallier confirmed that budget cuts were a priority of his, but he refused to discuss how he intends to achieve them. He denied that financial incentives were offered to lieutenants who reduce police overtime.
There is no doubt that a University with limited financial resources needs to set spending priorities. But budget cuts should fall on security concerns last. Harvard's responsibility to protect its students, faculty and administrators from bodily harm comes first.
One important addendum to my comments earlier this month on Harvard's elitist and intellectually dishonest decision to rescind the early admission of Gina Grant:
Admitting a killer to campus, as the Cambridge Chronicle pointed out this week, has not been a concern before. Four years ago, Harvard granted Guatemalan Gen. Hector Gramajo a master's degree. The University was well aware that Gramajo had directed the death squads responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Guatemalans.
In Harvard's view, Gramajo possessed the "moral character" to be a student and fellow here. Grant did not.
It's still not too late to do the right thing and admit Gina Grant.
Joe Mathews' column appears on laternate Mondays.