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The Harvard University Police Department Advisory Board discussed redefining campus safety and working toward greater department transparency at its first meeting of the semester last Wednesday.
The board, which first convened last March, was established after an external review concluded the University’s private police force required major departmental reforms to bring transparency and campus engagement.
The external review also prompted the creation of a Reimagining Community Safety working group, which includes two HUPD Advisory Board members as well as faculty, staff, and administrators from across the University.
“The University 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,” the review suggested.
At its meeting Wednesday, the HUPD Advisory Board provided feedback on an early draft of the working group’s plan to hold a series of forums focusing on three core features of campus safety. These areas include physical safety; belonging and ideological safety; and mental, social, and emotional safety, according to Anabella Morabito, the newest member of the board.
Currently, the board consists of thirteen members, including professors, students, and administrators. Noah A. Harris ’22 – who was previously president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council – is the only undergraduate serving on the board.
During Wednesday’s meeting, HUPD Chief Victor A. “Vic” Clay provided updates on departmental reform. The board members also helped plan further improvements to the HUPD crime and workload dashboard, which was recommended by the 2020 review.
They also discussed the role of the University’s new vice president of human resources, Manuel Cuevas-Trisán, in advancing accountability within the department.
Harris said building a working relationship with Clay has been one of the highlights of his time on the board and was an important priority for ensuring productive collaboration with HUPD.
“I feel like this is someone we can trust. As an African American, I’ve never seen a Black police chief before,” Harris said. “He’s doing work that I never probably could have imagined Harvard University Police Department doing.”
Board member Robert A. Dickson, director of campus services at Harvard Medical School, said the board hopes to get as much campus input on the Redefining Community Safety working group’s agenda as possible.
“Everyone wants it to be a community-wide engagement process,” Dickson said. “We're advising on how to roll that out and who to engage and trying to get as many people as possible.”
Tim Bowman – the executive dean for administration and finance at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a member of the board – said that the board has not yet given any formal recommendations to HUPD.
“From my perspective, it's early for us to try to be issuing recommendations,” Bowman said. “We’re bringing ourselves up to speed and also getting up to speed with Chief Clay.”
The board met infrequently in the fall, which Harris attributed to the holidays and Clay’s onboarding. The advisory board has met four times since its creation last March, according to University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain. Bowman said the board now hopes to meet every other month.
Several board members stated that they have had a positive experience with Clay so far, describing him as focused and practical.
“My impression has been extremely good,” Bowman said. “Harvard is lucky to have him and has made a very good choice in bringing him to our community.”
Dickson said he takes pride in the work the board has done so far.
“The thoughtfulness of the conversations we’ve had so far and of the committee members for the overall safety of the community has been really impressive and something I’m proud to be a part of,” Dickson said.
— Staff writer Sarah Girma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahGirma_.
— Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.
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