Members of the Undergraduate Council who met with the leaders of an independent review of the Harvard University Police Department said they worry the University will incrementally change, rather than transform, policing on campus.
The University launched the external review — led by law enforcement experts Brenda Bond and Ronald L. Davis — in June to supplement an existing internal review and search for a new chief to replace Francis D. “Bud” Riley, who is retiring at the end of a tumultuous year.
Noah Harris ’22 said that though most students in the listening session had had few direct experiences with campus police, the department has a poor reputation on campus.
“HUPD has a reputation for being bad news, and has a bad name in the Harvard community, at least among the students,” Harris said. “We all feel that we need a lot more transparency from HUPD as well, because when something bad does happen, they don't take accountability for it.”
Bond and Davis met with the Council’s executive committee on Sept. 4 – one of a series of meetings aimed at gathering opinions about Harvard’s police.
Jenny Y. Gan ’22 questioned whether the reviewers are speaking to the right stakeholders in those listening sessions, though she said she appreciated that they included Council members.
“It's not my discussion to have,” she said. “Not that I don't have a social responsibility, but it's the Black students on campus who are going to be affected, the students who have been victimized before by the police. Those are the ones that this group should be talking to.”
Gan said she hopes that the reviewers also speak with student activists and the homeless population in Harvard Square.
HUPD has come under periodic fire for its treatment of individuals experiencing homelessness, including earlier this year. Officer Anthony T. Carvello, for example, used what onlookers called excessive force against young, Black, homeless men on at least three separate occasions over the past year.
Carter H. Nakamoto ’21 said they share Gan’s concerns about the lack of representation of non-Harvard affiliates.
“For someone who is experiencing homelessness in Harvard Square, that's a person who will probably be much more affected by HUPD than I will, and has — to my knowledge — literally no recourse, literally no method of trying to secure accountability, to make changes, to this force that will really affect their lives, and potentially inflict violence upon them,” Nakamoto said. “That strikes me as something that is a priori untenable, and completely unethical.”
They added that non-affiliates have few pathways to express dissatisfaction with Harvard police.
“As a student, there's no democratic accountability for me over the people who will walk around campus with guns. That's already really bad,” Nakamoto added. “But I at least have access to this listening session where someone will hear my concerns and maybe or maybe not act on them.”
Jason A. Newton, a spokesperson for the University, wrote in an emailed statement that the reviewers are meeting with “various stakeholders across campus, representative of student, faculty, and staff populations, in addition to members of the HUPD department itself.”
So far, that includes the UC, the Harvard Graduate Council, the GSAS Student Council, faculty deans, proctors, tutors, RAs, and senior administrators, he wrote. He also said “quite a few activist groups” have submitted written comments, and that the reviewers will meet with members of the Harvard Coalition for Black Lives.
“While the list of their meetings is robust, and constantly evolving as they have more conversations, it obviously cannot be exhaustive,” he added. Newton also noted that all community members are welcome to email the reviewers written feedback.
Still, students who participated in the listening session also questioned the format and efficacy of the review.
Nakamoto said they think, by their very nature, listening sessions are “something that the University uses often in situations where we have not seen meaningful changes result from them.”
Harris also said he worries the “appearance of action can sometimes take the place of actual change.”
Newton wrote that the University is “committed to transparency with the recommendations within the report and implementation strategies.”
For Nakamoto, the fact that the external review is occurring simultaneously to the search for a new chief makes it “difficult to believe” that a true “reimagining” of HUPD is “actually on the mind of administrators.”
“That action is implicitly indicating that HUPD will continue to be — at least for a good stretch of the near future — a part of campus life,” they said.
Newton wrote that the recommendations that come from the external review will be released prior to the completion of the chief search, and that the external reviewers will meet with the search committee in the coming weeks.
“Given this timing, the report and recommendations that are the outcome of the review will help inform the search itself, and then will serve as a roadmap for both the incoming chief (once appointed) and senior leadership moving forward,” he wrote.
Despite what students view as its limitations, Gan said she is “optimistic” about the review.
“But I also find myself being realistic about Harvard,” she added. That means an expectation that the result of the review is “likely going to be more on the conservative side.”
Steven G. Catalano, a spokesperson for HUPD, declined to comment on the ongoing review but wrote in an email that HUPD is “committed to providing a safe and secure campus through quality policing and treats all persons with dignity and respect.”
—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.