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Winning Friends: Bud Riley Woos Student Protesters, Administrators

By Robert K. Silverman, Crimson Staff Writer

In 1969, a little more than thirty years ago, police officers beat and clubbed student protesters occupying University Hall to drive them from the building.

Within the past month, riot-geared officers wielding clubs and pepper spray forced their way into the student-occupied chancellor's office of the University of Wisconsin, arresting more than 50 protesters as dawn broke over the campus.

But such scenarios are almost unimaginable at Harvard today.

The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), under the direction of Chief Francis D. "Bud" Riley, prides itself on the good relationship it has with students, even those who oppose the policies of the central administration.

Over the past year, the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM), which runs the living wage and anti-sweatshop campaigns, has staged a series of rallies and demonstrations protesting the labor policies of the University, but no students have been arrested and no violence has erupted.

"My officers know that their role is [to ensure that] students have the opportunity to express themselves in the accepted manner of the University culture," Riley says. "[The students] know we're not there to bully or harass them in such a way as to suppress the voicing of their opinions and issues."

Riley says the department seeks to maintain a delicate balance between enforcing University regulations and protecting the rights of students.

When the lines of communication are open and responsibility is shared, Riley says, demonstrations can be successful for all parties involved.

"We can minimize the need for police intervention and maximize [the students'] ability to get their voice heard and do it in a manner that's safe for everyone," he says.

So far, Riley's approach seems to be working.

Although they cite a variety of reasons, members of PSLM have not yet forced a direct confrontation between HUPD officers and students.

"I think the police have been great," says Amy C. Offner '01, a member of PSLM. "They have consistently been very fair and very professional in their treatment toward us."

And Riley has won almost universal accolades from the administration.

"I think the HUPD has handled [the situation] very professionally and very sensitively," says University Attorney Allan A. Ryan Jr. "I have a good deal of confidence in Chief Riley."

Although successful up to this point, Riley says he and his staff remain watchful, as a wave of sit-ins continue nationally and PSLM steps up its tactics at Harvard.

The Chief's Strategy

Riley says his policy toward student activism is a "direct extension" of his overall strategy of community policing, in which officers get to know students personally to create a more secure and comfortable atmosphere.

He encourages officers to meet and communicate with individual students to become familiar with their concerns. Officers know many students by name, eat meals in the campus dining halls and stop and chat while on foot or bike patrol.

Riley has extended this policy to HUPD's handling of student activism on campus. He knows many PSLM members by name, as do some of the officers.

During PSLM's most recent demonstration, members misdirected HUPD to stage a series of three unannounced living wage "teach-ins" in Mass Hall, the Office of Labor Relations and the University Development Office. Yet, officers bantered with protesters throughout the two-hour action.

Two officers even joined a handful of the protesters they had just evicted from the Development Office for lunch in the Eliot House dining hall.

"When students see officers they know, they feel they are less likely to oppress them and bully them. On the flip side, when police officers see students they know [at demonstrations] who they understand are there to make a point, it defuses tension," Riley says.

Safety First

Riley says his primary task is to ensure the safety of Harvard students. Police are present at rallies, he says, to both enforce University regulations and guarantee that students can peacefully stage their protests.

"We're there to make sure that [students] are able to state their voice safely," he says. "We're there to protect their rights as much as we're there to protect the rights of the administration."

HUPD dispatches officers to every demonstration held on campus. Riley makes it a point to attend most actions personally, surveying the crowd from the outskirts in an overcoat.

Police officers will often work with rally organizers to ensure that the demonstration is both safe and effective and falls within the bounds of Harvard rules.

"When there are large rallies, I talk to the organizers, have a frank discussion why I'm there and offer suggestions as to how they can hold their rally that would have a safe environment for everyone," he says.

PSLM members say they recognize the conflicting interests HUPD must work to balance.

"They're concerned for our welfare but they have to make sure we're abiding by the rules," says PSLM member Benjamin L. McKean '02, who is also a Crimson editor.

While rallies under his tenure have yet to erupt in violence, Riley says his past experience as a state police officer has taught him to take no demonstration for granted.

"I view every demonstration as [having] the potential to escalate, because of the nature of crowds, even if student [organizers] don't want it to," he says.

He says "one stupid misunderstanding" could ignite a major clash.

When community members or students from other schools in the area attend Harvard rallies, the potential for violence increases, Riley says.

According to Riley, at a rally a few years ago, a student from another Boston school participating in a rally at Harvard attempted to goad the crowd into throwing rocks through the windows of Mass Hall.

"If someone comes from the outside, they may not care, and that's much more difficult to control," he says.

PSLM members say their goal is to prevent violence, as well, and to that end they are willing to work with HUPD.

"There's an attempt on both sides to be safe and cooperate with one another," Offner says.

Riley praises members of PSLM for organizing well-run, violence-free demonstrations.

"I give a lot of credit to the kids," he says. "They've been very responsible."

But the specter of 1969 continues to haunt Riley.

He says the department will go to any lengths to prevent a similar outbreak of violence.

"It takes years to get over a major confrontation with police," he says.

Escalating Tension

While they have not yet inaugurated a program of civil disobedience, including sit-ins and arrests, PSLM members have increased the aggressiveness of their tactics in the past month.

Both the anti-sweatshop campaign and the living wage campaign have demonstrated in Mass Hall unannounced, refusing to leave until explicitly asked to do by HUPD officers.

"Things are becoming increasingly tense, and I'm starting to become concerned," Riley says. "It's gotten to the point where they have to use subterfuge."

PSLM members say their tactics were directed against the administration, not HUPD.

"None of these have been actions against HUPD and to subvert HUPD," Offner says. "These actions are aimed at administrators."

But administrators say the actions have primarily affected office workers.

"If somebody comes in and is disruptive and yelling and rattling doors, it's disruptive to the people who work," says Jacqueline A. O'Neil, Mass Hall staff director.

Riley says he is especially worried about clerical workers who are often the first to confront activists in unannounced demonstrations.

"Their anxiety level is really up," he says. "Many of them consider it an invasion of space."

But HUPD officers often intervene on behalf of students in such situations, urging staff members to allow the students to demonstrate and not to retaliate.

He urges workers to simply call HUPD and let the officers handle the situation.

"We trying to keep it in perspective, so when students arrive, [staff members] don't fear for their lives and just call us," he says. "It's our job to take care of the rally, not theirs."

But PSLM members dismissed the charges.

"It's a bunch of nonsense for administrators to take notice of the welfare of the workers when PSLM comes into talk to them but ignore the welfare of the workers the rest of the time, paying them poverty wages for 80 hours a week," McKean says. "All the secretarial staff that I talked to were supportive of our demands."

Riley says an increase in activism across the country--sit-ins are currently ongoing at both Johns Hopkins University and Macalester College--is partly responsible for PSLM's more direct actions.

"These kids are responding to the national debate," he says.

PSLM members deny significant outside influences.

"If we were competing with other schools we would have had a sit-in a year ago," Offner says. "We had enough people, we just did not think it was appropriate."

Not the Right Time

PSLM members say their respect for HUPD and affection for individual officers is one factor in their decision not to engage in civil disobedience, but they say a more significant reason is the lack of a pressing need.

"A sit-in is the final act of any campaign," Offner says. "It's not something you can reasonably do or should do until you've tried every possible venue for change and exhausted all other possible measures."

McKean says PSLM's good relationship with HUPD would be a factor in any decision to consciously break University regulations but would not prohibit such a decision.

"It would make it more difficult but it wouldn't rule out the actions entirely," he says.

"On the one hand we don't want to put people we know and like in a tough spot, but perhaps since they know and like us [the action] would result in less clubbing," he quips.

A Job Well Done

HUPD, and Riley in particular, drew praise from all administrative officials who have dealt with rallies or demonstrations.

"HUPD understands the dynamics of protests. They have to walk a fine line between firmness and flexibility and by and large they do that very well," Ryan says.

"Bud Riley is extremely respectful of students, he has a good relationship with them and is doing an excellent job," says Anne Taylor, vice president and general counsel.

PSLM members also say they appreciate Riley's role.

"A good part of our [good] relationship with HUPD is attributable to the role the chief has taken," McKean says.

For his part, Riley says he has a personal affection for the students with whom he interacts.

"I don't want police here treating you differently from my kids, and once the police get to know you they wouldn't want anyone to treat you any different from their kids," he says.

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