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Despite Increase in Arrests, HUPD Sees Decline in Use of Force in 2023

An HUPD officer is stationed at the entrance to Harvard Yard. The number of arrests made by HUPD increased nearly 20 percent, while instances of use of force declined by nearly 50 percent.
An HUPD officer is stationed at the entrance to Harvard Yard. The number of arrests made by HUPD increased nearly 20 percent, while instances of use of force declined by nearly 50 percent. By Jack R. Trapanick
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

The number of arrests made by the Harvard Police Department increased by nearly 20 percent in 2023, according to a recent update to the HUPD dashboard.

Launched in 2021, the dashboard provides information on HUPD’s calls to service, field stops, arrests, uses of force, and personnel complaints. The new data, which was released on April 1, is the first update to the dashboard since summer 2023.

While these arrests largely result from cases of thefts, incidents of assault and trespassing also constitute a large proportion of arrests. This comes as the force continues to grapple with the campus fallout from Israel's ongoing war in Gaza, which HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay said contributes to the recent increase in trespassing arrests.

“After October 7, we were far more vigilant,” he said in a Friday interview. “We have a higher number of officers deployed, and we are more vigilant now because of the heightened attention at Harvard University, we’re able to respond to trespassing calls a lot faster.”

HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email to The Crimson that the force “takes into account many factors, including the seriousness of the offense and the victim’s preferences in how they want the case concluded, when deciding whether to pursue criminal complaints or effect an arrest.”

The dashboard also showed a nearly 50 percent decrease in use of force by the HUPD in 2023— from 14 instances in 2022 to eight instances in 2023.

Use of force is described as the application of “physical techniques or tactics, chemical agents or weapons to another person,” according to the HUPD website. It does not include when an individual is voluntarily subjected to being searched or handcuffed.

HUPD saw the most significant decrease in use of force in instances involving medical calls and well-being checks. Reasons for the use of force include effecting arrest or to “prevent imminent harm to self or others.”

While use of force incidents decreased in 2023, HUPD faced significant criticism from students following an April 2023 swatting attack in Leverett House. During the incident, HUPD officers entered a dorm room in Leverett and ordered students out of their rooms at gunpoint after receiving a threatening call.

Clay said that in the year since the incident, HUPD officers attended a training on swatting hosted by the Municipal Police Training Committee and have participated in multiple online seminars that discuss “regional and global swatting.”

“We’ve had multiple conversations within HUPD on how to identify swatting early so that we don't become a victim to this — because I do believe the police department and the people involved are both victims in swatting,” Clay said.

The updated data also reveal that Black individuals comprised a third of HUPD’s 2023 arrests. While this is a dramatic decrease from the force’s arrests of Black individuals in 2022, it is still disproportionate to the demographic makeup of both Cambridge and Harvard. Though in 2023 10.6 percent of Cambridge residents, 6.7 percent of Harvard undergraduates and graduate students, and 6.8 percent of faculty and staff were Black, 36.7 percent of individuals arrested or served criminal complaints by HUPD were Black.

Catalano wrote in an email that HUPD “takes seriously its responsibility to protect the rights of all members of our community.”

“As part of that commitment, officers will not stop people in a manner that unlawfully discriminates on the basis of race, age, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, gender presentation, or sexual orientation,” Catalano wrote. “All field stops and arrests must be based on reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause that a crime has occurred, is in the process of occurring, or is about to occur.”

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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