Racial Profiling? Harvard Reviews Campus Cops

Campus police come under scrutiny as Harvard reviews its "diversity training."


Aug. 28, 2008 — -- Campus police at Harvard University are under scrutiny, as the Ivy League school this week launched a review of the department amid allegations of possible racial profiling of students and professors.

In a letter released to the public and addressed to colleagues, university president Drew Gilpin Faust announced plans to review the department's diversity training in light of an incident earlier this month as well as "concerns expressed internally."

"The review will include consideration of HUPD's diversity training, community outreach and recruitment efforts, as well as the ways in which Harvard's past experience as well as best practices elsewhere can help inform our future practice," Faust said.

The statement referenced an incident that occurred earlier this month in which police 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 that lock," Faust wrote.

According to the Boston Globe, that person was a young black man.

An unnamed source told the Harvard Crimson, "The conversation between the individual and the officers was laced with obscenities." That source told the paper that the officers have allegedly been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The university's review will be overseen by Ralph Martin, a former Suffolk County district attorney and currently the managing partner of the Boston office of the law firm Bingham McCutchen, with several professors on the board. The school also is separately investigating the specific bicycle incident.

A Harvard spokesman said he was unsure of how long the review would last.

This isn't the first time that campus police have had run-ins with black members of campus, according to Charles Ogletree, the director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School and a professor at the university for nearly 20 years.

"I don't recall a year at Harvard that I've not been approached by one or more students who expressed some concern with their interaction with the police department," Ogletree told ABCNews.com. "We've held sensitivity training sessions with the students and police that were extremely instructive and helpful."

Student Groups Face Racial Tension

Ogletree is pleased that Faust has decided to look into a problem that he calls a "troubling issue that has plagued the university now for decades."

"I don't think we've come up with a suitable solution to the problem of supporting the police department's necessity of enforcing the law while at the same time respecting the rights of minority students to not be subjected to racial profiling," he said. "This gives us all a chance to pause and figure out how to establish a better working relationship between [them]."

Junior Alneada Biggers, 20, was wishing for that better relationship in the spring when two black student groups -- the Harvard Black Men's Forum and the Association of Black Harvard Women, which Biggers serves as president -- held an outdoor picnic and games event in a quad between houses. According to Biggers, other similar events also are held in the area.

Although the students were wearing their association's shirts that said Harvard on them, police arrived at the event, she said.

"I think that incident knocked me back into reality. Harvard is a microcosm of the world. You still have people who are ignorant and may still be prejudiced and may still be racist," she said. "A lot of students were hurt that [other students] would call the police on us. That was the first big racial incident on campus."

The most recent announcement has students debating the whys and reasoning behind the review announced by Faust.

"Is it because this has happened and is an accumulation, or is it that Drew has taken note of this and taken a stance?" Biggers said of the debates among her classmates on an e-mail list serv.

She likes to think it's the latter.

"I was really excited when she became president -- really trying to make Harvard a better place," she said. "I think it's that Drew Faust has become aware of the issues."

Campus Police In Review

In a statement, campus police said they welcome any recommendations from the review committee.

"The review will provide the Department with an invaluable opportunity ... hear in new ways from the Harvard community about how we might better serve our diverse population," police said.

In an ideal world, Ogletree would like to see an ongoing committee that will address these longer-term issues.

"It's not going to be an easy thing to do, but it's necessary for us to do it in order to move forward," he said.

Biggers' ideal outcome is even simpler.

"I want people to be more aware -- the administration, the police -- that there are racial tensions on campus. ... I don't want them to be overlooked," she said. "That for me is enough, and that's what I can ask for from this incident."

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