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Dissent: This Was an Appropriate Police Response

By Kanishka J. Reddy and Ivor K. Zimmerman, Crimson Opinion Writers
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

In the early morning just last Monday, four students in Leverett House became the victims of swatting — the act of making an illegitimate emergency call designed to harass a target by provoking an armed police response. What resulted was a shocking and terrifying moment for all students on campus, and we recognize the profound trauma of those directly affected.

We join the Editorial Board in offering support to the four Black students that were woken up at gunpoint by Harvard University Police Department officers. We also agree with the Board’s call for a thorough and transparent investigation. And we similarly find the College’s lackluster support disappointing, and hope that they will overall address the situation more directly and openly.

However, the Editorial Board’s renewed criticism of HUPD and militarized policing is, in this case, misguided and detrimental to student safety.

We are concerned with the Board’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of a campus police presence, and its failure to imagine a scenario in which the threat that triggered the swatting was real. According to the update by HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay, the caller warned HUPD that they were armed, claimed that they had unsuccessfully attempted to kill a hostage, and threatened to shoot any responding officers. While the threat turned out to be a hoax, it was certainly credible. We are thankful HUPD took appropriate action.

As the Board has previously argued, we are the generation of mass shootings. While disturbing, it is not hard to imagine a mass shooting event on our own campus. In instances like these, it is necessary to have an appropriately armed and trained police force.

Beyond their flawed logic about police abolition, the Board fails to recognize that the abolition of HUPD would not remove police presence on campus, but rather largely replace HUPD with the Cambridge Police Department. The problems attributed by the Board to HUPD as a policing institution also exist within CPD and are in fact magnified by its relative unfamiliarity with Harvard’s community and campus. HUPD’s acute knowledge of College buildings and culture informed their response on April 3, in alerting officers to the caller’s familiarity with how Leverett rooms are colloquially referenced; this benefit, among others, would be lost were we to abolish Harvard’s police.

Furthermore, it appears that the University must have some level of recourse and oversight over its eponymous police force in HUPD. Although imperfect, this accountability would disappear if HUPD were abolished and CPD filled the policing void — making situations like the swatting at Leverett even less safe for all involved.

Ultimately, we reject the Board’s characterization of the swatting as a consequence of militarized policing. In fact, this incident demonstrates the need — especially at an institution like Harvard — for a police force that is familiar with the community and able to respond actively to threats of violence.

The caller bears full responsibility for the chain of events their call provoked. The trauma caused was the result of their actions alone. We hope that the caller will be punished appropriately, and that the affected students receive the support and acknowledgement they deserve from the University and the Harvard community. But faulting the existence of policing on campus for one swatter’s actions is like blaming medicine for the maladies it is prescribed to address.

Kanishka J. Reddy ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Classics concentrator in Kirkland House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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