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Harvard Police Department Advisory Board Without Undergraduate Representative For Nearly a Year

The Harvard University Police Department's headquarters are located at 1033 Massachusetts Ave.
The Harvard University Police Department's headquarters are located at 1033 Massachusetts Ave. By Julian J. Giordano
By Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen and Yusuf S. Mian, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard University Police Department Advisory Board — tasked with overseeing HUPD’s commitments to transparency and campus engagement — has lacked undergraduate representation since the graduation of its only College student member in May 2022.

Noah A. Harris ’22, the former president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, was the only undergraduate on the board. Harris’ position on the board has been vacant since his graduation in May 2022, leaving the University’s police force without any formal undergraduate oversight.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton confirmed that the board is still without an undergraduate representative and did not respond to a request for an updated list of members.

“The committee has been actively reaching out and connecting with several people in attempts to fill the position,” Newton wrote in a Wednesday statement.

In a February 2022 meeting, the HUPD Advisory Board provided feedback on a series of forums proposed by the University’s Reimagining Community Safety working group and offered advice on updates to the HUPD’s crime and workload dashboard.

In an interview with The Crimson last week, board chair Tim Bowman — the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ dean for administration and finance — said the Advisory Board will continue to seek input from different stakeholders within the University to attempt to increase diversity in membership.

“We’ll go to those stakeholder groups who know their community the best and ask them to give us names,” Bowman said.

“I believe that we are in the process of transitioning me off of the board and on-boarding new members,” Osiris Rankin, a Psychology student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, wrote in a Thursday statement. He also confirmed he is still a current member.

The Crimson reached out to each of the Advisory Board’s 13 members as of 2022 — representatives from across the University’s schools, including professors, administrators, and students — to inquire about progress made on the board’s initiatives. Eight did not respond to requests for comment, three declined to comment, and two responded: Bowman and Rankin.

“We have met as a board on multiple occasions this year, including recently,” Rankin wrote. “In our meetings, we have discussed department initiatives such as those related to hiring, promotion, training, emergency response, transparency, and communication.”

The Advisory Board was formed in response to a December 2020 external review that called for significant reforms for greater accountability within the department. The review came in the wake of a January 2020 Crimson investigation surfacing a pattern of racism, sexism, and alleged favoritism within the department. In June 2020, longtime HUPD Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley announced plans to retire.

Bowman said the Advisory Board is looking into whether or not HUPD officers should always respond to mental health calls or if “there are other ways the University can respond” instead.

“Some people feel a little overwhelmed when Harvard University police is the one unlocking the building for them,” Bowman said. “And it may not be even the best use of their time.”

HUPD has faced heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of a “swatting” attack on Monday, which saw at least five HUPD officers raid a Leverett House suite equipped with riot gear and assault rifles. During the encounter, officers ordered the four College seniors in the suite out of their rooms at gunpoint.

Newton, the University spokesperson, declined to comment on Monday’s “swatting” attack. Four of the board’s members also declined to comment on the matter.

HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay wrote in a Wednesday statement that the officers were responding to a caller who claimed to be armed and holding a woman hostage in the suite.

Rankin wrote that the HUPD workload and crime dashboard team has met with experts and stakeholders outside the Advisory Board. He added that he discussed a newer version of the dashboard with HUPD within the last month outside of the board’s regularly-scheduled meeting.

“The dashboard incorporates community feedback on ways to effectively and transparently share information with all of Harvard and the general public,” Rankin wrote. “This includes information on calls to the HUPD and actions taken.”

HUPD’s workload and crime dashboard has not been updated since June 2021.

After the board’s February 2022 meeting, Bowman told The Crimson that “it’s early for us to try to be issuing recommendations,” and the board members were “bringing ourselves up to speed.” More than a year later, the board has not publicized any formal recommendations it has issued to HUPD.

“The reputation of HUPD at Harvard, I think, is starting at a positive place, and I realize there’s always been some issues and concerns that in many ways is systemic of just policing in the United States in general,” Bowman said in last week’s interview.

“But I think it’s been a very effective, very positive organization,” Bowman added. “How can we now even take that further and improve upon that?”

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at ryan.doannguyen@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.

—Staff writer Yusuf S. Mian can be reached at yusuf.mian@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @yusuf_mian2.

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