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John Harvard's Journal

Probing Policing

November-December 2008

In the wake of complaints about interactions between the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) and black members of the community, President Drew Faust in late August appointed a group of attorneys, faculty members, and a student to undertake a “special review” of “how best to assure the strongest possible relations and mutual understanding” between the police and “Harvard’s highly diverse community.” Among the issues to be considered are “HUPD’s diversity training, community outreach, and recruitment efforts,” plus any lessons that might be learned from best practices elsewhere.

Faust’s letter announcing the task force (see referred to an incident in August, when HUPD officers “confronted a person using tools to remove a lock from a locked bicycle. It was later established that the person was working on the Harvard campus for the summer, owned the bicycle, and was trying to cut the lock because the key had broken off in the lock.” That information apparently came out only after at least one officer reportedly moved toward unholstering her gun. (Two officers were placed on administrative leave during an investigation, following a formal complaint from the youth.) In another incident, a May 2007 event sponsored by black student groups at the Radcliffe Quad led to calls to the police and HUPD queries about who the participants were and whether they were legitimately using Harvard property—and sparked sharp discussion in the Crimson’s opinion pages.

The review is being led by Ralph C. Martin II, formerly Suffolk County district attorney and now managing partner of the Boston office of Bingham McCutchen. Other committee members are former Overseer William F. Lee ’72, now co-managing partner of WilmerHale; Hauser professor of nonprofit organizations Mark Moore, of the Harvard Kennedy School (whose research focuses on criminal justice and policing); Clark professor of ethics in politics and government Nancy L. Rosenblum, chair of the department of government; Undergraduate Council president Matthew Sundquist ’09; and Kirkland and Ellis professor of law David B. Wilkins.

The HUPD issued a statement on the review, noting that it would “provide the department with an invaluable opportunity to benefit from Mr. Martin’s expertise and to hear in new ways from the Harvard community about how we might better serve our diverse population. We look forward to any recommendations generated by the process that will help ensure the HUPD remains as effective as possible.” The committee is expected to report to the provost and the executive vice president by year’s end.