Last week, seven HUPD bicycle patrol officers were present at a protest in Franklin Park rendering assistance to the Boston police. Their presence has raised legitimate questions in the Harvard community about the appropriate role of HUPD in responding to protests over the brutal killing of George Floyd. Many have asked, at a time when the nation is raising a moral voice in response to police violence visited upon black people, at a time when communities are uniting to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, what role does HUPD play beyond our campus and how can we ensure this role is consistent with our commitment to community policing and community values?
Harvard, like other universities in the area, participates in mutual aid arrangements. In times of need, Boston and Cambridge police routinely render assistance to us when we have large events on our campus, including concerts, major athletic contests, and Commencement, as well as protests that attract large crowds that often include non-Harvard affiliates. Similarly, we render assistance when needed. During the pursuit and manhunt of the Boston Marathon bombers, for example, an HUPD officer saved the life of a transit police officer who had been shot during an exchange of gunfire with the suspects.
The current circumstances, however, have rightly served as a catalyst for an important national discussion about policing and vital questions about racism, police brutality, and how we must reimagine the role of our institutions in providing public safety and security. Earlier this year, an internal review of HUPD was announced, prompted by allegations of racism within the department and use of excessive force in apprehending people on our campus, specifically people of color. To address these issues, we have also retained two outside experts—Brenda Bond and Ronald Davis—to undertake an independent review of the Department’s practices and procedures to ensure that the HUPD embraces best practices in community policing when measured against other university police departments. They will report directly to Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, and she will share their recommendations with the community. I have asked that the review include an additional assessment to ensure that the protocols and procedures utilized in providing mutual aid to our surrounding municipalities are fully aligned with the community policing values we have as the core of our public safety strategy on our campus and in our community. This independent report will serve as a crucial resource for our community and for the new leader of the HUPD.
The Harvard community is deeply distressed by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many more Black Americans at the hands of those who have promised to protect communities and uphold the rule of law. Black lives matter, and we must use this moment to confront and remedy racial injustice. Too many precious lives have been lost. Peaceful protests and raised voices in Cambridge and Boston, across the country, and around the world rightly demand real and meaningful change, change that will truly ensure equal justice for all.