By Meera S. Nair

Under Review Episode IV: Dueling Reports, Part 1

In the first half of the finale of Under Review, hosts Matteo Wong and Olivia Oldham put two reviews of the Harvard University Police Department, one by University-hired consultants and the other by abolitionist activists, head to head.
By Olivia G. Oldham and Matteo N. Wong

In the first half of the finale of Under Review, hosts Matteo Wong and Olivia Oldham put two reviews of the Harvard University Police Department, one by University-hired consultants and the other by abolitionist activists, head to head. Listen and subscribe on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.


OGO: Coming up, on Under Review

Lawrence S. Bacow: Here in Harvard Yard, we must embrace diversity in every possible dimension

Ifeoluwani “Ife” E. Omidiran: During the course of writing our report, our members had to go in person into HUPD office, in the middle of this pandemic, in order to gain access to these records

Brenda Bond: what we hope for a review like this is figuring out what the next version of any given unit is, whether it's the police or health and wellness, health facilities

Noah Harris: “It's like they're resistant to, to change, but at the same time they're asking us, you know, how we should change HUPD?”

MNW: We’re finally returning to where we started this podcast — the summer of 2020, when on June 2 a Twitter image of a Harvard University Police Department officer assisting Boston police at a BLM protest in Franklin Park went viral. Here’s a protest that, in response to that sighting, called for the abolition of the HUPD.

Abolish HUPD Protest, June 2020: we know about the Harvard police being called in as reinforcements to intimidate protestors in Boston who filled the streets to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd.

Omidiran: A couple of days after President Lawrence Bacow sent an email where he was lamenting the murder of George Floyd and kind of talking about Harvard's investment in civil rights, just a few days after that photos emerged of HUPD officers who were patrolling a Black Lives Matter vigil at Franklin Park, which is a neighborhood, sorry, it's a park in Dorchester, which is, you know, presumably pretty far from what Harvard police's jurisdiction ought to be. And so, yeah, so we, after seeing that, we were pretty enraged

MNW: That’s Ifeoluwani “Ife” E. Omidiran, class of 2022, a member of the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign who helped lead student organizing after this image circulated.

Omidiran: It is really upsetting to not only see just knowing like walking around on campus, seeing HUPD officers who are armed who have guns who are fully their full police officers with arrest power, even outside of Harvard's gates. It doesn't make me as a Black woman feel safer. It isn't comforting whatsoever. And then to see this really stark contradiction in what the University espouses its values to be and espouses, you know, to have this investment in Black lives, and then having its officers go and patrol this vigil

MNW: We’ll hear more from Ife, who is a Crimson arts editor, in a bit. Naturally, President Bacow responded to the uproar over this photo with another letter to the Harvard community — a letter announcing an external review of the Harvard University Police Department. He wrote that the presence of HUPD officers at this protest “raised legitimate questions in the Harvard community about the appropriate role of HUPD in responding to protests over the brutal killing of George Floyd.” and that many have asked, “what role does HUPD play beyond our campus and how can we ensure this role is consistent with our commitment to community policing and community values?”

OGO: Bacow announced that the consulting group 21CP Solutions — short for 21st Century Policing — would conduct an independent review of the HUPD and make recommendations for how to best ensure public safety at Harvard and the surrounding communities. This is Brenda Bond, a professor at Suffolk University and one of the 21CP reviewers:

Bond: we just sort of merged our efforts and responded to the request to really take a look operationally what the Harvard University Police Department is doing but also to consider what they're doing operationally in light of what was happening nationally around police community conflict, racial injustice, brutality, and things like that

OGO: But at the same time that Bond was helping lead one review of the Harvard University Police Department, Ife helped lead another — this one conducted by a group of students called the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, or HAACC for short.

Omidiran: So from there, we did some more research. And we found that HUPD has these, what they call mutual aid agreements with Cambridge, the Boston Police Department, and other law enforcement agencies. And so we really are, what the work that we're trying to do is to call for the abolition of HUPD and also to, to sort of dispel the myth that University Police officers are this, like harmless, or softer police force. We've been doing research, and we're anticipating our release of our long form report in a couple of weeks, which does, presents our really extensive resource research into the history of HUPD and how, since its founding, it's been a force for the protection of whiteness and property.

MNW: The two reviews, one commissioned by the University and the other conducted by student activists, were prompted by the same event and released their final reports within two weeks of each other last December. Though there are some similarities between the two, they have tremendous differences — in process, findings, and recommendations. A brief synopsis: The HAACC review concludes that Harvard should defund its police force by 80 to 100 percent.

Abolish HUPD Protest: to call for the complete and immediate abolition of the Harvard University Police Department

MNW: While the 21CP review provides a process for the Harvard community to begin reimagining public safety at the University in the long-term, which is admittedly a bit vague, as well as some short-term reforms to HUPD procedures. We expected these reports to be diametrically opposed, one to call for defunding and one for community police reforms — but we also found some surprising points of commonality. So in our final two episodes, we’re putting these reviews head to head — a duel, of sorts. I’m Matteo Wong

OGO: And I’m Olivia Oldham,

MNW: You’re listening to Under Review, a podcast from the Harvard Crimson’s magazine, Fifteen Minutes, in which we’re exploring what we call the Harvard diversity review.

OGO: We started our circuitous journey with another flashpoint over policing on campus from 2018, then jumped to the first diversity review, the study of race relations in 1980, and then back to 2018 to examine diversity reviews more broadly. We’ve explored patterns of how Harvard responds, with varying success, to concerns over policing, racism, and diversity — looked at when diversity reviews fail, when they work, and how they function at this university.

MNW: Now we’re ready to throw that understanding into a radically different context, the heightened attention that the summer of 2020 brought the life-or-death consequences of police racism and the nation-wide Movement for Black Lives. With countless past reviews of diversity, policing, and race in Harvard’s archives — and now in our minds — in this two-part finale, we ask, How has Harvard’s approach to racism, diversity, and student well-being changed through 2021? Harvard is a university with a long and rich history, but just how sharp is its institutional memory?

2018 Visitas protest: Black Lives Matter, at Harvard, too. Black lives matter! Black lives matter!

Segment 1

Bond: my name is Brenda bond Fortier. I have a dual role. So my full time job is a Professor of Public Administration at Suffolk University, where I teach in the Master of Public Administration program [...] But then I also do a number of external projects, where I engage with different police agencies and universities. And part of that work happens with the 21CP Solutions team. So I've been working with them recently doing some of these Campus Public Safety reviews

MNW: Before leading the external review of HUPD prompted by the summer of 2020, Bond was already consulting on an internal review of the Harvard police force — that review prompted by a bombshell report from a colleague of ours at The Crimson, Ema Schumer, which unveiled decades of alleged sexism, racism, and nepotism inside HUPD’s ranks under the leadership of Police Chief Francis “Bud” Riley.

OGO: Right, and in response, Chief Riley announced an internal review of the force’s culture and policies, conducted by five HUPD officers, Bond, and another consultant — unsurprisingly, another diversity and climate review, of sorts. Riley would oversee that review directly. His leadership in that review , however,raised concerns among some HUPD officers, who didn’t want Riley, the alleged source of some of the problems internal to the police force, leading the investigation.

MNW: Yes, and so this new independent review, which reported directly to Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, was viewed much more favorably by the HUPD rank-and-file. So Bond had already been working with the HUPD prior to June 2020, and Bacow and 21CP Solutions then brought her on to this independent review. That Crimson investigation into HUPD’s internal culture also meant our campus and Harvard students were discussing reforming or abolishing campus police well before the summer.

OGO: And you add to that uproar over recent incidents with Harvard police officers harassing people of color in the Smith Center, or being called to investigate a class of Latinx students setting up a performance in the Yard, or assisting at an abolish ICE rally — which have led to a lot of anger at HUPD among students. And perhaps as a result of these broader tensions, as well as the immediate context of the summer of 2020, the review of HUPD in 2020 had a much broader charge than, say, that of the 2018 Yardfest review — they were to review public safety and policing in general, rather than a specific incident and its implications.

Bond: Our approach is really to help, to help leadership and administrators sort of think about, what is it you want to achieve in this process. And at Harvard, it was sort of like, We want to, we want to make sure that we are doing what we should be doing around campus safety and well being.

Bond: Our review is to both look at official documents about how things work, but then to ground that in what we hear from community conversations about what they want, what they don't want. And then to pull all that together and compare it to what we know about best practices, what we know about the research, what we know about where campus public safety is going, and to offer those observations and recommendations to the University.

MNW: It may not surprise you that the word “community” came up a lot in our conversation.

OGO: As it has in every report we’ve looked at so far. It’s such a capacious term — I’m curious to know what community meant for this specific review?

Bond: I completely understand the concern, or the potential frustration that we weren’t able to reach, you know, different people, different groups. And we're faced with the challenge of trying to engage as many people as possible in many different ways. And so interviews, focus groups, and either, whether it's an online survey or an email, an anonymous email that would come to us, those are the kinds of things that we try to do. We obviously also look at social media, we pay attention to what's going on around the campus. And we take that into consideration so that we can at least try to triangulate and use more than one source.

MNW: But we know a lot of voices will inevitably be left out of any review — think back to the 1980 study on race relations. And you add to that limitations imposed by the pandemic. So elected student representatives, for instance, we know they talked to extensively. But, for instance, the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign was not contacted, nor was the Black Students Association, according to its vice president, and nor was HAACC, according to Ife.

Ife: I know they had some conversations with the UC, trying to reach out to various stakeholders. And so it's, I think it's telling that, like activist groups are not on the list. That's not someone they consider a stakeholder

Bond: a limitation in any review is that something is left out. And what we try to do is, you know, make a strong statement in our report that says, we could not engage everybody and it's, we would implore the university to try to figure out How to do that. And to recognize and hear the voice of people who have really great concerns about different aspects of the University community.

OGO: I get their sample size won’t be nearly as large as the University population, but those organizations you mentioned are extremely, extremely visible — they’re hard to forget about. Her answer doesn’t do much to resolve my concerns about the word “community.” Like just frankly, a white, wealthy guy descended from four generations of Harvard who plays competitive squash is part of Harvard’s community, but it would make more sense to speak with the Generational African American Students Association or the prison divestment campaign to understand concerns over policing at Harvard than the squash team.

MNW: Right, it’s kind of a cop out to chalk everything up to the community. If you don’t identify who in the community voiced which opinion then you aren’t really getting the nuance of what the campus thinks of policing and how those opinions are divided.

MNW: And when I asked professor cornell brooks, of the kennedy school and former head of the NAACP, about what has made past efforts to reform or end violent policing fail, he pointed to approaching policing in general, without addressing the specifics of racism, as a big part of the problem

Cornell W. Brooks: Some of it has to do with the focus on performing policing broadly without addressing racism particularly. So in other words, race drives much of what is wrong about policing, right. So in other words, when we look at the disparities, Latinos, Muslims, Asians, trans folk, members of the LGBTQ community — there are particular groups whose arrest, whose incarceration, whose surveillance, whose profiling, represent disparate multiples compared to white people. Right, so in other words, if you address the problem technocratically and broadly, without addressing it with racial and ethnic and gender and gender identity specificity, you miss the point

MNW: Thankfully, I was able to talk to some of the members of the community that Bond spoke with, since we started our reporting well before the report was issued in December

Noah Harris: I'm Noah Harris. I'm a junior at the college in Dunster house, if we were in person, and I'm studying government. And on the undergraduate Council, I am the treasurer.

MNW: Noah was in one of these focus groups last fall. They were these hour-long Zoom meetings, during which the 21CP asked some general questions. Here’s Bond’s description:

Bond: our work is centered around listening, maybe asking some probing questions or some facilitating questions, where we say, ‘Tell us, community, tell us what you think safety looks like or what makes you feel safe. Do the police make you feel safe? Or do they make you not feel safe?’

MNW: Noah thought this focus group went well.

Harris: Forgive me, it was like three weeks ago now. But the, the two individuals or the three individuals that were conducting it, I believe, did a really good job. They were not affiliated with HUPD and they let us know that so that we could speak freely about our experiences or the experiences of friends or the experiences that we have witnessed.

MNW: Noah said one of the key concerns he and the other UC reps brought up was a lack of transparency around HUPD, not knowing what exactly their responsibilities are, not knowing much about follow-up, discipline, or changes to police policy when controversial incidents occur, and so on. Which meant the UC couldn’t give the reviews very specific suggestions — they hadn’t been privy to the mechanics of HUPD

Harris: I think it was, it was pretty productive. But at the same time, it was it was hard for us to, to kind of pinpoint exactly what the issue was because we we can't even, we can't even learn from the past experiences, because all we saw was the end result, we didn't see the practice that led to that, to that performance. And so it's kind of hard for us to, to recommend change, other than, you know, like I said, more transparency, these vary surface level things. And it's sad, we haven't been able to move past the surface level. But I definitely made sure to encourage them to, to go and meet with with people that actually have a background in this work

OGO: Which, in theory, is a reason to do this review — students don’t have access to this information, but Bond and her associates did, and could make that information about HUPD publicly available through their report. To that end, Carter Nakamoto, the Harvard student who we heard from in episode 1 and was in the same focus group as Noah, brought up that the reviewers asked some pretty substantive questions about alternatives to policing:

Carter Nakamoto: the two consultants who were there spoke more in favor of substantial revisions that they characterize less and less as being in line with what HUPD has been historically and what would be considered a police department. Like, more of the things that they suggested, by the end of the session, were in line with I would say, movements on other college campuses to shrink the role of campus police departments and close campus police departments altogether in favor of other public safety alternatives. But also not that out of line with the rhetoric of police defunding movements, suggesting that there are lots of services for which the police should not be the first responders

MNW: On the other hand, that report about HUPD from 2018 also raised a lot of concerns about the force’s transparency, and also said we should consider non-police first responders. The same concerns then resurfaced for 21CP, if they ever went away. I went about all this reporting wondering, what differentiates 21CP’s process from past reviews of HUPD? Will it lead to substantive change?

OGO: And I’d be shocked if you weren’t thinking of those questions. My gut response was also skepticism — because we know that there’s a tendency for Harvard performance reviews around race and diversity not to amount to much, or at best to be very, very slow. Especially after talking so much with Frances Frei and Daryl Smith, the two experts on diversity reviews from last episode. Sure, they were talking about diversity, not police departments, but clearly the issues are related, and both Frei and Smith described how these reviews can stall and delay, or be used for image-preservation, or have no power to implement recommendations. And those are all concerns I have for the 21CP review, as for any Harvard performance review.

MNW: They are concerns many students shared. Carter Nakamoto was pretty explicit about this:

Nakamoto: The University has a penchant for, you know, ordering reports, for conducting surveys, and then basically, filing those results away, holding a few listening sessions, perhaps with students, and then not making material changes in response to their findings [...] The reviewers didn't seem to have a good answer, or really even a new framework for how, how this review would differentiate itself, and how it would actually exert power over the administration in a way that similar past reviews have not. Yeah, I am very concerned about the likelihood that this is a cosmetic process

MNW: Let’s recall, of course, that everything Carter and Noah said was speculative — this was before 21CP released their report. But I’m inclined to agree, that given Harvard’s history of review after review after review, even before reading the recommendations there was good reason for students to have a baseline of skepticism. And to that end, a group of students and activists conducted their own review — the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops, who we introduced earlier.

Segment 2

Joan Steffen: So it definitely was sparked by the, by sort of seeing the specific photos of HUPD [...] And so we started meeting, I think. Not too long after that, we kind of, our group came together through like just a variety of networks of people who knew each other from other organizing efforts, other sort of leftist or abolitionist projects all across Harvard. And so yeah, we were able to come together and start meeting and came up with the idea of a report to kind of bring together a lot of the different interest areas that people came with

MNW: This is Joan Steffen, a second year law student who was one of the founding members of HAACC. As the organization’s name suggests, they came to the review process from a very different angle than Bond and 21CP Solutions. The University charged 21CP with, in broad terms, evaluating HUPD and rethinking what public safety does and should mean at Harvard. HAACC in a way was also reimagining public safety, also reacting to student outrage and fears not only at HUPD presence at Franklin Park, but also the harassment of unhoused people in Smith, of the police being called on students in the Performing Latinidad class, of a pervasive and unavoidable police presence on our campus. And they had a particular direction in mind for this reimagining, as Ife describes:

Omidiran: I think we have to understand that we have been trying and in a larger sphere beyond Harvard. We've been trying to reform police departments and to reform policing and prisons, and it hasn't worked. The history of police and prisons is a history of reform. And so one of our what we want to do is to get up this idea that police are what make us safe,

MNW: From the outset, they believe in the abolition, or at least massive shrinking, of Harvard’s, and importantly, all police forces. Fundamentally, they saw policing as a way to uphold white supremacy and property rights, of defining who should and shouldn’t receive the protection of the law, which operates along racist and class and gendered lines:

Steffen: Another piece of it really too, is just this whole idea of like the whiteness as property critique, along those lines. So, this idea that whiteness is this form of privilege and entitlement that functions, almost like a property entitlement. And we see that sort of really clearly manifested in terms of like access to the physical faces of Harvard Yard and, like we were just talking about who's seen as belonging and who isn't. And taking that sort of from the abstract to the tangible, you know, when we have this armed police force is tasked with sort of trying to make this determination of who belongs and who doesn't and are, because they're trying to make this determination are coming into contact with so many people who are perceived as not belonging, it's just putting them at such greater risk for getting involved in the criminal legal system, and ending up incarcerated. And of course like prison abolition is also a big connected very much to police abolition

MNW: This idea that policing is a function of systemic racism and protecting the property of whiteness, we might recall, was something Cornell Brooks, also told us:

Brooks rerecord: the challenge of deadly, homicidal, brutalizing policing coincides, is reinforced by, exacerbated by, the carceral state, the prison industrial complex. That is to say, literally, the growth of mass incarceration has also led to the growth of fatal and deadly policing. Mass incarceration is literally the fruit, is literally the manifestation of systemic racism on the back end, and destructive policing is a manifestation of systemic racism on the front end. So in other words, it's when people are profiled, like when people look at you, they don't see you as a person, they don't see you as a student, they don't see you as a human being. They see you literally as an object of suspicion. Or if they look at me, they don't see me as a father, a professor, a civil rights lawyer. They see me as a suspicious character. These disparities begin at the front end, in terms of surveilling, profiling, the use of databases to literally construct, like data portraits of whom the police are going to profile and surveil and arrest and harass.

OGO: We’re beginning to question the assumption that to be part of Harvard is to be special — rather, to HAACC, racism through Harvard and HUPD is not just a reflection of, but a perpetuation of, societal racism. So how did HAACC apply this theory, one grounded in histories and research on policing and racism across the country, to Harvard? 21CP’s process involved reviewing documents and holding community conversations. What about HAACC’s process?

MNW: As was mentioned earlier, HAACC is a coalition of students (and staff?) with a variety of backgrounds — so some dove into the history of HUPD, others into the finances, others into researching alternatives to police responses, others into analyzing HUPD call logs, and so on, depending on their interests and expertise. HAACC also did some research into 21CP Solutions, the group Bacow brought on to review HUPD, and saw that 21CP did a similar review of Yale’s police department a year earlier — which, to Ife, raised concerns:

Omidiran: as part of our research, we also, we did some research into the, on the reports that 21CP has produced for other institutions. And they did a pretty similar report on public safety at Yale. And we read through this report. And essentially all of their recommendations were reformist steps that did nothing to shift power away from the police. Some of the things they suggested were integrating community policing, and getting Yale’s Police Department more closely integrated with their security forces, having officers do mental health crisis intervention training, and cultural competency training, and also coordinating better with the New Haven Police Department. So while these are things that, you know, ostensibly might sound like, a good thing, like, you know, you, I could see how someone would see like cultural competency training and mental health crisis intervention training as good things because, you know, in theory, we would, if we're going to have police, we would want them to know how to handle a mental health crisis intervention. But the thing is, our argument is that there's no reason that police officers should be the ones intervening if someone is having a mental health crisis. That doesn't, that just doesn't make any sense.

MNW: Of course, the Yale report had a different charge and different reviewers and the findings would be specific to Yale, not Harvard. It’s not a perfect point of reference. But there are similarities in terms of method from the Yale and Harvard reviews, i.e. trying to represent the views of the quote-unquote ‘community.’

Omidiran: the problem isn't that HUPD and police departments in general aren't diverse enough or, you know, aren't well trained enough. The problem is the very existence of police. [...] So if this, if this report on public safety that 21CP authored for Yale kind of gives any indication into what they might suggest for Harvard's police department, it's, I mean, my thought is that it does not sound like it will be effective in getting us closer to this goal of abolition.

OGO: It seems like they kind of skipped the “listening tour,” as Smith — the diversity review expert from last episode — might call it. Smith was critical of how a University president might go on a listening tour to figure out what’s wrong, or commission a study on a toxic department, when there are already people who know, quite intimately, about that toxicity or what is wrong. Joan speaks to that:

Steffen: I think that that 21CP report put a lot more time into sort of having conversations and focus groups with current Harvard community members. We did solicit anonymous reports, or just input from students. And I mentioned that we're trying to also do this story collection from the local Cambridge community. But we didn't put as much effort into that — I think our stance was like, we are, we are students, and in a lot of ways we're the experts on how HUPD is affecting our student community. And we didn't feel like our views had to go through this sort of legitimizing process, of like a focus group that has that goes to these outside consultants to analyze the data and turn it into like a polished official document, you know. We sort of felt like we were already sort of poised to, to talk about student needs and student concerns without the, without the sort of formal effort

OGO: It seems like the students and activists who coalesced into HAACC, in many ways, are those people who know what’s wrong with policing at Harvard, and so they took what they saw as a direct approach to addressing it. This report isn’t top-down; it’s made, at least in part, by the people it’s trying to serve. We see this difference in approach and perspectives reflected in the structure of the reports, and the contextual information they provide in the reports. 21CP dedicates most of the report to the 2020 context of Black Lives Matter protests and a lot of time to their qualitative research figuring out what Harvard students’ attitudes toward police are,

MNW: Yeah, I actually followed up with Noah after 21CP released their report — he’s now the Undergraduate Council president — and he had a similar response.

Harris: When the third party is kind of diagnosing the problem. And I know they talked to several University stakeholders, but a lot of them I guess, are attributing the problem students have with HUPD, to the situation with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all these other injustices that we've had this summer. And why I think that, you know, it has to be, that has to be a factor, I don't really think that that is the main factor. I think issues of like, national issues around policing, while they do exist, I think, from what I've heard from students, and what I've seen myself, you have just a significant amount of like, just no transparency from HUPD, and these very much isolated issues that only seem to be negatively affecting students of color [...] they spend so much time I guess, talking about the context of the issue, and I really don't think that that's necessarily the content. Maybe that's the context they were brought on to do this job.

OGO: Whereas the HAACC members were super aware of the context Noah’s referring to because they’ve lived it. So their report opens with a declaration that police must be abolished and a lot of scholarship arguing that policing upholds white supremacy, and they devote space to alternative responses, analyzing HUPD finances, HUPD’s history, and so on.

MNW: Which is not to say they approached their report with predetermined outcomes. Just as 21CP reviewed HUPD logs and documents, the heart of the HAACC report is an analysis of what HUPD does — which we’ll get to the results of in a second — and that analysis is based on hundreds of hours spent analyzing thousands of pages of HUPD call logs. Which gets to another key difference between the HAACC and 21CP reports, quite simply, level of access.

Amanda Chan: So I knew that there were logs because of the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires universities to track the crimes that happen on campus. And even though the University may not be a public university, at the very least those daily police logs have to be publicly available.

MNW: Amanda Chan is a recent graduate of HLS. Basically, she knew about a federal law and a Massachusetts statute that require universities to keep publicly available crime logs in “in a form that can be easily understood.” So Amanda asked a friend who was good at stats to help out, and he made an algorithm that could read online PDFs of HUPD crime logs and analyze them.

Chan: But of course, the Harvard University Police Department doesn't post all of them online, just I guess, a few months at a time. And then “poof!” you know, where do the logs go?

MNW: So she got in touch with Steven Catalano, an HUPD spokesperson, and asked him to send the rest of the PDFs.

Chan: this was right in the middle of COVID. And it would have been really ridiculous for people to have to risk their lives and well being and worse the spread of a very new contagious and deadly disease. But that's what he insisted on us doing

OGO: That’s awful! And in the HAACC report there’s a screenshot of Catalano’s email — they wrote asking if there was a way for them to access the logs remotely, and he responded with one word, “No” — not a hello or a sincerely.

MNW: So Amanda and other members of the coalition masked up and went to the HUPD headquarters to go through the physical logs.

Chan: It was awkward once we, we got there, all masked up. Although I have to say not all the police officers were masked up, unfortunately. And he just let us go through the binders, the police logs, and shockingly, or not shockingly, the in-person binders looked exactly like the PDFs that were available online. And in fact, it looked almost like somebody had recently printed out all of these papers at one time and very recently went into their binders. Of course, I can't say that for sure. Because I'm not a medium. But we had a strong suspicion.

OGO: Wait, she’s implying that the logs were actually kept online, but that HUPD intentionally did not post them and claimed they were only in person — and then HAACC called their bluff, so HUPD had to scramble last minute to print out all these copies and make it look like a long-standing, hard-copy-only record log?

Chan: in the movie Gone Girl, she's faking a diary over a longer period of time. And she goes through the effort of actually burning the diary to make it seem like it had been aged and she used different pens. I don't think that effort was really used or input or implemented here, because definitely, the binders had a similar look to them. And the fact that they weren't already, by the time that we had gotten there, I mean, if you really are printing out these binders on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not people are requesting them, then they shouldn't be incomplete. They should already be complete when we get there. But they weren't.

OGO: Steven Catalano, the HUPD spokesperson, declined to comment.

Chan: So we're in the room, we're using our iPhones which are dying, you know, of battery, because that camera uses a lot of energy. And we're like, trying to charge our camera and trying to delete memories so that we can make more room for all these photos. And he's just in the room with us, just like watching us, like, I guess making sure we didn't steal the pieces of paper or something.

MNW: The logs were incomplete and disorganized, which made their task harder. And once they had the photos, the original PDF scanning algorithm didn’t work.

Chan: So we had to gather up a team of P photo transcribers to look at the text and read the text of the photos and put them into an Excel sheet for our stats guide, analyze, and that took a whole lot of time. And at first, it seemed pretty impossible to be able to transcribe all of them in time. But we did it, and not only that, we got a whole bunch of people who really really got into the intimate details of the police logs. And we really were able to catch all of the most ridiculous things that HUPD is doing all the time. For example, I'm getting called out to a suspicious flyer that turns out just advertising a band, getting called when the bathroom doors locks and nobody can get in. Because we obviously need a man with a gun instead of a locksmith to handle that situation. Someone called HUPD when there was a chemical spill in the lab, which again, I don't see how a gun will help in that situation. So even though it took a lot of time, it was very informative

MNW: Which brings us, then, to the findings — what did the HAACC and 21CP reports, both released in the span of a couple of weeks in December, determine about the Harvard University Police Department? And based on their findings, what did they recommend the University should do?

Segment 3

OGO: For all the differences in their reviews’ starting points and processes, some of the actual findings of 21CP Solutions and the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops — their respective answers to the question, ‘What does HUPD do?’ — have surprising commonalities. 21CP found that a lot of what HUPD currently does on campus, doesn’t actually require law enforcement to respond. Here’s Bond, the 21CP reviewer, explaining that finding:

Bond: Historically, universities have a campus policing unit that was very much like, in concept, traditional municipal police agencies. And they're, I would say that, in general, the idea of a campus police agency was sort of grounded in let's just apply our policing model to this specific community. And the first part of the report is really, I think, just a strong, a strong recognition that if that model ever worked previously, it definitely doesn't work anymore

OGO: To her point — in 21CP’s analysis of HUPD calls for service, they found that the 15 most frequent reasons for calling HUPD, things like “directed patrol” or “recovered property” — totaling 82% of all calls — do not typically involve violence and that “the nature of the call itself does not immediately or necessarily implicate that the response of a law enforcement officer is required.” We talked to Amanda as she read through this part of 21CP’s report for the first time, and she read this sentence from 21CP aloud to herself,

Amanda Chan: “at least some portion of personnel recognize that the department does not simply or even primarily prevent and address crime.” [laughter] Then what do they do?

MNW: And, as her laughter might imply, HAACC found something very similar. They analyzed all those police logs Amanda and others took photos of, which are a slightly different data set but are analogous to what 21CP had, and they found “theft reports,” “suspicious activity,” “unwanted guest,” made up the top 3 reasons for calling HUPD.

Steffen: I think that HUPD is sort of presented to students as protecting, you know, our safety, you know, sort of physical security, preventing quote unquote “crime,” things like that. What we found looking at the actual incident report is that the vast majority of what they do is property related crimes, both personal property and sort of trespass activity. So yeah, like the number one thing that that we saw on incident reports that the biggest category was theft reports, followed by suspicious activity and unwanted guests, which, of course, are all about policing the boundaries of Harvard's, like physical property.

MNW: They also did a qualitative analysis of some of these logs, which Amanda alluded to earlier, that yielded findings like HUPD responding to lab spills, lockouts, things might not need or want armed officers responding to.

OGO: My personal favorite in the HAACC report, from September 2015, is, “Officer dispatched to a report of a restroom door being locked for a substantial amount of time. Officer arrived and [sic] report door was not locked it was just stuck.”

MNW: Both of the reports arrive at the same general conclusion about HUPD’s current role on campus, which is that it doesn’t work and is too expansive — that whatever HUPD does, it’s nowhere near limited to providing for public safety. But the more specific findings of each group, the granular analysis, vary. Bond explained that a lot of the Harvard community they spoke to supported some police presence

Bond: there are actually a number of people on a college campus who appreciate some of what the police department does. And so I think, and so we heard that too, right? We heard that some people feel safer when they see a particular public safety person, whether that's securitas or, you know, the police department is obviously a conversation to be had [...] Also, to complicate things even more, there are victims of crime. Crime happens on campus. And there were victims of crime. And we heard from, from individuals who have had positive interactions with the police as a result of victimization.

MNW: It’s not that Bond and 21CP support or oppose the existence of campus cops, but because they were charged with reviewing the opinions of all of Harvard’s community, they gave room in their report to pro-HUPD voices. Whereas of the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops did not — it was a priori, to them, that pro-policing or reformist mindsets were part of the problem.

MNW: Ife, a member of HAACC, articulated this mindset

Omidiran: what we want to do is to get up this idea that police are what make us safe, that the reason that you should feel safe on Harvard's campus is because there are officers walking, around with guns who will go and harass a person experiencing homelessness in Harvard Square. and potentially arrested for trespassing. we want people to start interrogating that notion of safety and to interrogate why that has to be at the expense of disproportionately Black and Brown students and houseless people in Harvard Square, we also know are disproportionately Black, Brown

MNW: In the past students declared “I, Too, Am Harvard” or “Black Lives Matter at Harvard, too” — both undoubtedly important rallying cries, of course, but HAACC was changing the terms of the conversation around policing at Harvard, saying, “Harvard should protect, or at least not police, non-Harvardians, too.” When we discussed Yardfest, a lingering point was that the police should never have punched and arrested that young Black man regardless of his status as a Harvard student, but a lot of the media coverage focused on making the student out as special because he attended Harvard. HAACC members like Joan really hammered in this idea that HUPD defends property and privilege, rather than people, both of Harvard, but of white supremacist structures more generally

Steffen: It seems like the HUPD is spending most of their time sort of investigating these property crimes, which is a major source of harm for students, like I kind of mentioned before, who are perceived as not belonging, and then have to justify themselves to the police department, which is, of course, you know, a harmful experience, and towards the unhoused community, or really anyone else who is visiting campus and is just perceived as not belonging. We saw incidents related to parents or tourists or just people looking for a quiet place to pray — like that, that log really stuck with me. And then with the theft reports those are mostly going unsolved. And so police involvement in these facets isn't actually accomplishing anything

OGO: An example in the HAACC report that seemed pretty convincing, in their case that HUPD primarily polices who does and doesn’t belong on Harvard property, is that Jeffrey Epstein was able to walk through the yard 40 times even after being convicted of sex charges involving a minor, but unhoused people are harrassed by HUPD in the Smith Center, or even in the Square, regularly.

MNW: And HAACC did a lot of research beyond the scope of just how policing affects people at Harvard, looking into how Harvard police affect the surrounding Cambridge community, while 21CP’s report is focused primarily on Harvard spaces and affiliates.

Steffen: I think one thing that surprised me personally, was just the extent to which HUPD is really just terrorizing the local unhoused communities in Cambridge, and just, yeah, that the broader community outside of like Harvard students, staff and faculty, I think that's also a blind spot that I saw in the 21CP report

MNW: They were especially concerned about the mutual aid agreements that HUPD has with municipal police departments and other law enforcement agencies, which basically mean Cambridge or Boston police can ask HUPD officers for assistance. That’s what led to HUPD presence at the June 2 BLM protest, or to HUPD presence at an abolish ICE rally.

Amanda Chan: The Harvey University Police Department. I mean, don't bother calling it the Harvey University one, just call it backup Boston Police Department, honestly, but not subject to the same transparency laws because of the mutual aid agreements. They get to show up wherever Cambridge police calls them, wherever the Boston Police calls them, wherever the Massachusetts State Police calls them as, quote unquote “backup,” quote unquote “mutual aid.” Is that what you want your tuition dollars to be funding?

Steffen: We also call for HUPD to end their contracts and mutual aid agreements with the Cambridge police department and the Boston Police Department. This is really important to us, because of the ways that our funding, as students, of the Harvard University Police, is then going towards these really oppressive and violent police tactics, and repressing protesters and putting down the uprisings that we saw this summer. So that, that's really fundamental to us. And the, the 21CP report, by contrast, calls for reexamining these agreements and sort of allowing HUPD to bow out of assignments or tasks that don't align with University values. It's unclear to me what that means necessarily.

OGO: One of the biggest points of divergence I’m seeing also relates to Cambridge police. If we recall, in 2018 it was Cambridge police officers who tackled, punched, and arrested a Black Harvard undergraduate. Here’s Bond

Bond: Some people said I would rather have Harvard University Police Department in a new and improved form, protecting, like taking care of me and ensuring my safety, than I would Cambridge

MNW: To which I might respond, CPD responding to and policing Harvard students is the status quo — the Yardfest incident shows that Cambridge police are already threatening Harvard students. But more fundamentally, Joan basically responded to this criticism of HUPD abolition by saying abolition isn’t just about removing, but about reenvisioning — so you get rid of HUPD and replace it with resources like a student-run EMS, mental health professionals, night escorts, property insurance, etc., that mean students would never be in a situation requiring CPD. Joan again:

Steffen: When we implement these alternatives, they really need to be backed up by resources, staffing, you know, to be able to fully meet the needs of our community so that we don't have to rely on calling in the Cambridge Police Department

OGO: There are a lot of differences between these reports, yes. But they might be a product of 21CP’s role as a supposedly neutral third party, to learn about the perspectives of as many people as possible, so they included favorable views about police presence, whereas HAACC had a position in mind when they started: police are always bad. But that emphasis on outreach and community that Bond talked about also meant 21CP engaged and even agreed with more abolitionist approaches. They devote a lot of time to discussing why “community policing” doesn’t seem like a good approach anymore, which is very in line with HAACC. Here’s Amanda, from HAACC:

Chan: Think about what the word community policing means. What it means, essentially, at Harvard, is that Harvard police officers get to go and hang out in areas where they didn't get to go before

OGO: 21CP basically agreed, writing that “Many made clear that the adoption of this broader conception of ‘community policing’ may not align with how many within the University community want to be policed going forward. A police department that comprehensively implements community policing “embraces a broad view of the police function rather than a narrow focus on crime fighting or law enforcement.’” They even explicitly engaged the abolitionist stance,

Bond: We recognize that in the report that there are groups on campus that want to defund the police, that don't want to police department there

MNW: The report concludes that there is common ground between all parties interested in changing police, whether that’s community policing or abolition — hence their key recommendation, which is for Harvard to have a community driven discussion to reimagine public safety. They wrote, “This report refers to the objective and process of systematically examining and considering transformation to the ways that a community provides for its security and well-being as “re-imagining public safety” – even as this term itself is increasingly becoming just as capable of meaning dramatically different things to different people as “community policing” or “defunding police.””

OGO: And so now we have to ask — 21CP Solutions spent several months evaluating and reviewing the Harvard University Police Department. Their central recommendation, which they call “pillar 1,” consists of reimagining public safety. Or more specifically Harvard, quote, “should engage in a community-driven, stakeholder-informed process of defining what ‘public safety’ is at Harvard and re-imagining how it can best be achieved.” Behind all the jargon, what would that look like?

Segment 4

MNW: So we’ve compared many of the core findings of HAACC and 21CP. Now we’re on to the recommendations: What is to be done? Here’s how Bond described their key recommendation, or pillar one, to me:

Bond: The second part of that first pillar is the community needs to decide. And so we recommend that the community take deliberate steps to define and then operationalize what community safety and well being should look like at Harvard University. So Harvard University is unique. I may not be able to say that about every university, but Harvard University is unique in what it does, what it represents. The impact that it has, the global reach. Also the very complicated history that comes with Harvard University. And there's an opportunity which we try to encourage in this first pillar, to really, literally reimagine what campus safety and well being means.

OGO4.27: Her response doesn’t add much clarity.

Steffen: That section of the 21CP report was also interesting. So the first, the number one recommendation, right, which calls for this sort of reexamining of, of defining public safety for Harvard, reimagining how to achieve it, you know, that, that sounds pretty good, I'll say — you know, this idea of getting input and reimagining Harvard's role and possibly shifting their responsibilities to non police entities on campus, you know. But, I mean, that was also the part of the report that was just the least definitive, the least-well fleshed out, you know, sort of open ended and aspirational.

MNW: Agreed, it’s open-ended and aspirational, which was the point — pillar 1 breaks down into several steps that outline a framework Bond and her fellow reviewers think Harvard should follow in getting input from all community members to chart a path forward on public safety, whether that means community policing or abolishing HUPD or something else entirely. They call for Harvard to make a “Facilitating Group” to lead this process, which they call to be as diverse as possible, and then they outline steps to make sure the group acts quickly and with transparency.

OGO: Pillar 1 seems like the least divisive take on one of the most divisive issues in the U.S.: they’re saying, let’s just wait and hear what everyone has to say. For a necessarily complicated issue, 21CP sort of trying to please everyone, at least everyone on this relatively liberal college campus.

MNW: And if we consider another relatively liberal college campus, Yale, the 21CP Solutions review of Yale’s police department made a very similar recommendation to the Harvard review: pillar one was “reimagining public safety at Yale” and they recommend a “community-driven, collaborative process to formulate a new Public Safety Vision.” — language super similar to the Harvard review of a, quote, “community-driven, stakeholder-informed process of defining what ‘public safety’ is at Harvard.”

Chan: Every time there is an investigation to be held by a university who doesn't actually want to make any material change, but wants to release a report to make it look like they're doing something, they just have like, like, like a mad libs where they have the same buzzwords over and over again and then they just control-avid-input “Harvard,” because all the reports are the same. Every single year another report comes out about policing this, policing that, and nothing ever changes. Sometimes we give more money to the police by diversity training, but nothing ever changes

OGO: And in either case pillar 1 just sounds like another review. to that end, in an interview in December, University Executive VP Katherine Lapp said, “Harvard will create two groups to pick up the important work this review has started.” They expected to announce the facilitating committee at the end of April, but have since said it will be in the fall. Here’s Noah’s reaction to that:

Harris: In setting up other other forms of review, and saying, we need to think about this more, and we need to create a focus group based off of the two review boards that we create, and I think, you know, that's what a lot of students are, are fearful of, I guess, reviews and reports like this. Because, you know, we see that, we see the problems that exist. And it's not, it's not the hardest thing to come up with with some of the solutions. Like for a number of these, you don't really need to study, I guess, police around the country to know that police should probably not be the first responders for everything that they are currently, like, no lockout and, and mental health issues.

MNW: And these proliferating reviews might be an especially big problem for changing police departments. I asked Cornell Brooks, former NAACP head and long-time advocate for police transformation and abolition, about this:

Brooks: Harvard has a history of encountering various challenges when it comes to policing, most recently, the arrest of homeless people, students being treated unfairly at the hands of the police, the participation of Harvard police in this recent anti racism protests [...] in the wake of these various challenges, they've been various commitments to do new reports, to make new assessments, to conduct evaluations. And you've asked the question, so how effective is that, with respect to Harvard, and how effective is it with respect to what's happening in the country more broadly? So my answer would be, would be this, that this is a long and disturbingly familiar pattern of policing crisis, followed by calls for police reform and transformation, followed by police task forces, commission evaluations, audits, and reports. In many instances, these assessments reports, task force and commissions, lead to recommendations, lead to occasionally reform referrals, a statutory, regulatory construction, but not necessarily reform and transformation. And the reasons for that were several, the first of which is studying the problem can lead to what Martin Luther King called the paralysis of analysis, meaning you study it, and because you study it, it leads to further study, more study, expanded study, but no action — paralysis of analysis.

OGO: It’s funny that the 21CP report actually explicitly recognizes this tendency to run down the clock. There’s a line that reads, “we are mindful that, as one faculty member wryly observed, Harvard’s ‘cultural response is to do “further study.”’ And in response to a request for comment, 21CP wrote in an email that they did not recommend a review, but a highly detailed process for how Harvard can transparently and quickly reimagine public safety in line with community values. As we said earlier, the subsections of pillar 1 explain how this reimagining can be quick and transparent. And Bond really emphasized the community part.

Bond: You’ve got thousands of people on this campus who are stakeholders in this community [...] I've been involved in municipal government, municipal community engagement processes, they are extremely complex and difficult to pull off, and it takes time. So the alternative would be that the University turns around and says, we're going to do this, and we're not going to engage the community. And my sense is that that might also create a lot of angst and frustration about not being involved in the process. So while I understand the, the skepticism that comes from the recommendation like this, the alternative is that the that it's top down, and there are a lot of problems with top down

OGO: But what if nobody at the top is listening when people at the ground level are speaking? Like the student Hilda Jordan told us in episode 1 about protesting police violence

Hilda Jordan: ...really feeling it with every fiber of my body and starting to cry because I truly felt like I was just crying to the institution to have them care for us

OGO: We’ve heard students speak out about safety and well-being in 2018, about inclusion and belonging in 2014. There was another review of HUPD in 2009, which we’ll get to later — it’s over 100 pages and super thorough. This dates all the way back to the Third World Students movement from the 1970s. Every four years, the students graduate. And every several years, it seems, concerns over race and diversity recur. So I agree, we don’t want a top-down solution, but it also doesn’t seem like something from the bottom-up is, at least empirically speaking, realistic.

MNW: That being said, there is a second pillar to the 21CP report, which includes five short-term recommendations. They write, “To ensure progress and accountability, HUPD should adopt a plan for fully implementing these recommendations within, at most, two years and as rapidly as possible within those two years.” So that is urgency. Once again, though, 21CP has no power — Lapp said Harvard’s making a different committee to consider those short-term recommendations. So another review, of sorts.

Bond: The University community will have to figure out how they hold the University leadership accountable for making something happen, right. It's not under the realm of any external reviewer to do that, unless that's part of the agreement. And so in some ways, folks like yourself, and others who are very active in sort of thinking about life at Harvard, need to identify those ways in which you can try to hold the university accountable to do something. So I know, that sounds maybe a little bit like the party line. But that's, who else will do that if the University community doesn't do that?

MNW: Which was, in some ways, precisely why HAACC formed — not just to hold the University accountable, but to force its hand. It doesn’t make recommendations, but demands — a few of which we’ve heard already — and those demands are very different from either 21CP’s first or second pillars. The demands of the Harvard alliance against campus cops, and the short-term recommendations of 21CP Solutions, are coming next time, on Under Review.

Abolish HUPD Protest: Today, we assemble outside the University-financed home, insured no doubt with slave money, of Larry Bacow to call for the complete and immediate abolition of the Harvard University Police Department.

MNW: This episode was produced by Justin Ye. Music by Ian Chan. Cover art by Meera Nair. Special thanks to Zing Gee, Thomas Maisonneuve, and James Bikales.

About Under Review:

How can Harvard, an institution with so much history, have so little memory?

The racial reckonings and Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country this past summer brought attention to a trend in how Harvard seems to deal with student activism and concerns surrounding race, racism, and diversity: to commission a diversity review. These committees and reports long predate this summer, and reading them it can seem, at times, like some things have not changed at the University — in race relations, Harvard’s review process, or the findings and recommendations. What can these diversity reviews accomplish, and what can’t they?

“Under Review” is a podcast from The Harvard Crimson, hosted by Matteo Wong and Olivia Oldham, chairs of The Crimson’s weekly magazine, Fifteen Minutes. Each week, they will explore controversies and diversity reviews stretching across 40 years of Harvard history, speaking to dozens of students, activists, experts, and more, to try and understand how the Harvard diversity review works — or doesn’t.

“Under Review” is produced by Zing Gee, Thomas Maisonneuve, Lara F. Dada, and Justin Y. Ye. Music by Ian Chan. Art by Meera S. Nair.