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A New Community Security

By Matthew L. Sundquist, None

Last August, two Harvard University Police Department officers responded to a report that an unidentified individual at the Barker Center was cutting a bicycle lock. They encountered a young man cutting the lock off a bike he claimed belonged to him. The bike was his, but it was reported that one of the officers drew a pistol and pointed it at the young man. President Faust introduced a committee to investigate how the HUPD can serve the Harvard campus in response to this event, allegations of inappropriate practices, and out of a desire to ensure the security of our campus.

The committee concluded that the HUPD usually satisfies expectations and that environmental factors often lead to non-ideal encounters. Assuming that security is the community’s responsibility, the committee made a series of recommendations intended to immerse the HUPD in the community as well as a recommendation to institutionalize a process through which individuals could lodge a complaint against the department and have it investigated and resolved.

The HUPD faces a number of unique policing challenges—the most significant being that there are frequent visitors to the Harvard campus who may be less committed to its security and well-being. Consider that, last year, 86 percent of arrests and complaints were lodged against non-Harvard affiliates. Our campus resides in the center of an urban environment, and a malicious individual could easily access the campus, commit a crime, and leave. Furthermore, the HUPD cannot examine the legitimacy of each call before responding, as this could dangerously delay an HUPD presence at the most crucial moment of a crisis. Thus, HUPD officers may at times become unknowing vehicles for the prejudices of individuals calling in a “crime.” Also, the Harvard police are subject to stricter public scrutiny than most departments, as incidents—often overlooked elsewhere—tend to receive tremendous attention at Harvard.

To immerse the HUPD more broadly into campus life creates opportunities for non-enforcement interactions between the HUPD and students. For example, an “account management system” would allow the HUPD to enlist individual officers in outreach efforts. Each officer would be assigned to manage a few accounts, and various student groups, Houses, administrators, and faculty members would be represented in a uniquely managed account. In order to be successful, these accounts must fulfill their reciprocal responsibility to join in the HUPD officers’ efforts. By conducting a safety seminar, attending a student group meeting, or even playing in an intramural game, officers could make account deposits and eventually quantitatively track their community involvement.

Next school year, we envision a closer relationship between the community and the HUPD. On move-in day, officers meet students and parents in the houses and distribute newly written literature on the HUPD, discussing our collective responsibility to security. Many students already have strong relationships with House security guards, and we hope these relationships can serve as a model for other students’ relationships with HUPD officers. For example, many students in Mather House know the house guard, Arun Malik. They talk to him about their theses or the science-fiction book he is authoring. Malik is considerably connected to our House and our students. Thus, we advocate that the HUPD form closer relationships with individuals like Malik, in addition to other stakeholders in the Houses, such as the masters, diversity tutors, and House Committees. A one-sided relationship is impossible, and community members must make reciprocal efforts to build relationships by engaging HUPD officers in conversations or by sharing a meal with an officer. Through these types of partnerships, our community will be better positioned to protect our collective security.

Maintaining a safe campus requires collective participation. For example, we expect that anyone intending to host an event involving significant numbers of visitors should communicate with the HUPD. All Harvard affiliates should present Harvard identification when asked for it. We also recommend that the university establish a public safety committee to review policies and survey data to be conducted by the HUPD and to create more modes of community involvement.

Of course, these and other measures will not solve every problem. Knowing this, the committee suggests a new method for resolving complaints of misconduct. A system for resolving disputes should be institutionalized, as it would be beneficial for everyone if fair and transparent response mechanisms regularly resolved conflicts. The HUPD could be certain they were using the best possible practices and the community could see to it that complaints were properly resolved. So, the committee recommends that the first response to a complaint from a Harvard affiliate be an internal departmental investigation. Such investigations should be systematically conducted in response to credible complaints sent to an e-mail address created for this purpose. If the individual lodging the complaint is dissatisfied with the investigation, the university ombudsman—who does not currently investigate such matters—ought to be empowered in appropriate cases to conduct their own analysis and resolve the matter.

We hope these and our other recommendations will help the HUPD to build upon their already commendable work and to engage the community in the shared responsibility of ensuring campus security.


Matthew L. Sundquist ’09 is a philosophy concentrator in Mather House. He is the former president of the Undergraduate Council and served on the President’s Committee on Improved University Policing.

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