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An incident earlier this month has raised concerns about Harvard University Police Department’s treatment of racial minorities on campus, leading University President Drew G. Faust to announce the creation of a six-member committee to review HUPD’s practices.
“The review will include consideration of HUPD’s diversity training, community outreach, and recruitment efforts, as well as the ways in which Harvard’s past experience as well as best practices elsewhere can help inform our future practice,” Faust wrote in an e-mail to faculty and senior-level administration.
The committee will be led by Ralph C. Martin II, the former Suffolk County district attorney and currently a managing partner at the Boston law firm Bingham McCutchen.
Faust wrote that the review was prompted in part by an incident that occurred Aug. 8 in which HUPD officers, responding to a call, confronted a person attempting to remove a lock from a bicycle.
According to the HUPD police log, the individual was determined to be the owner of the bicycle and an affiliate of the University after questioning by officers. The person has since been identified as a black high school student from the Boston area working at Harvard for the summer. Faust wrote that an investigation into the interaction between the officers and the student has been launched.
One source with knowledge of the situation said that “the conversation between the individual and the officers was laced with obscenities.” Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into how they handled the incident, a University official said.
Timothy M. Burke, the attorney for Theresa McAuliffe, one of the police officers involved, did not return requests for comment yesterday.
HUPD spokesman Steven G. Catalano wrote in an e-mail that the department is enthusiastic about the review.
“The review will provide the department with an invaluable opportunity to benefit from Mr. Martin’s expertise and to hear in new ways from the Harvard community about how we might better serve our diverse population,” he wrote. “We look forward to any recommendations generated by process that will help ensure the HUPD remains as effective as possible.”
Joining Martin on the committee are William F. Lee ‘72 , a former member of the Harvard Board of Overseers and co-managing partner of the large Boston law firm WilmerHale; Mark H. Moore, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School; government department chair Nancy L. Rosenblum; Matthew L. Sundquist ’09, president of the Undergraduate Council; and Harvard Law School professor David B. Wilkins ’77.
The incident with the bike marks the second racially-charged incident the department has faced in recent memory.
In May 2007, Harvard students called HUPD during a field day hosted by black student organizations on the Radcliffe Quadrangle, causing an uproar among black students and faculty. HUPD officers reportedly asked students for their identification and asked students if they had permission to be there.
S. Allen Counter, the director of the Harvard Foundation and a Harvard Medical School professor, wrote in a subsequent Crimson editorial piece that “these students felt collectively ‘profiled’ by race and asked the simple question, ‘if fifty or more white students were engaged in similar activities would they have been approached by the police?’”
“A recurrent complaint brought to our office by African-Americans students is that they are regularly stopped and asked to produce identification by HUPD and security guards while their white peers are not subjected to such scrutiny,” Counter wrote.
Counter told The Boston Globe that in 2004 he was stopped by HUPD in Harvard Yard and that the officers threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification. The officers then entered Thayer Hall to ask students about his identity, The Globe reported.
Timothy D. Turner ‘09, the president of the Black Students Association, said that while did not believe that HUPD officers were intentionally targeting black students, he welcomes the review as a step toward creating a friendlier campus for students of all races.
During a summer he spent working for the Crimson Summer Academy, Turner said there was an instance in which HUPD officers sat in a police cruiser monitoring the students participating in program while they played frisbee in the MAC quad, a fact the students noticed and later commented on to Turner.
“I don’t think that the HUPD is walking around targeting black students,” he said. “I think it’s more about improving their sensitivity training and about making HUPD seem more welcome to all students on campus.”
But J. Lorand Matory, a professor of anthropology and African and African American studies, was more critical of HUPD, calling the bike incident “the tip of a very large iceberg” and said that Harvard’s response to concerns about racial profiling in the past have been inadequate.
“We’ve taken up these discussions with deans, the president, the general counsel, and pointed out there’s a conflict of interest in the current structure and that the general counsel therefore has not responded with an effort to solve the problem where it lies,” he said. “We’ve been stonewalled.”
Matory has called for the installment of a new, permanent supervisory structure as he said he believed the current structure has conflicts of interest. He proposed a committee on campus climate, made up of administrators, faculty and perhaps students to “bring in a greater variety of voices and intelligent ideas.”
“The supervision of the police is inadequate—the police are sometimes engaged in activities that are contrary to our shared purposes, and there is no supervisor to address these matters as they come up,” he said. “The general counsel has put himself in a position as a defender of the police whatever they do.”
Martin, the attorney leading the review task force, said that the committee will initially focus on gathering information about campus activities and reaching out to key constituencies and will culminate in preparing a report for Provost Steven E. Hyman and Executive Vice President Edward C. Forst ’82, though Martin said that he hoped the issue would not end there.
“In some respects, the report is only the first part of the work and then the follow-up work will really be something the community at large is going to have to devote itself too and I don’t know what that will be at this point,” he said.
Martin has set up an e-mail address, email@example.com, to field comments from the Harvard community concerning the review.
—Paras D. Bhayani and Clifford M. Marks contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer Jamison A. Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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