Harvard Student Newspaper Sues University for Campus Records
By Shilpa Banerji
Harvard University’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, filed a lawsuit against the university late last month to gain access to campus police records regarding various incidents. The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, claims that since Harvard police officers have statewide arrest powers, they should be liable to follow state open-record laws.
After three years of frustrated attempts to get police documents on racial profiling, sexual assaults and suicide cases, the students finally decided to take legal action against the campus police force. The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD), unlike most of the private security forces patrolling other colleges and universities around the country, has statewide powers to act against any violation.
Private universities are generally not bound by the state open-records law; however, the newspaper argues, the campus police should be required to release records because officers “possess policing powers unique to public law enforcement agencies.”
The Crimson requested reports in June from the HUPD, the Cambridge Police Department and the Boston Police Department regarding specific incidents, including an alleged embezzlement by two Harvard students who confessed to the police. Although the school provides a public police log for campus crimes, it does not divulge any other details for further investigation.
According to the president and editor of The Crimson, Amit R. Paley, “They (the Harvard police) have powers to arrest people on and outside campus. What we want is an openness and accountability for their actions.”
Harvard University issued a statement saying that the university will respond fully to the suit. “We believe our procedures are sound and proper and in full compliance with the law,” the statement said.
Mark Goodman, director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., told Black Issues there has been only one other lawsuit filed against a private university for access to police records. It was a 1993 case against the University of Richmond. The university won the case, but a year later the legislature amended the law for private universities to gain access to police documents.
“The Crimson has a very strong case. It will bring to light what other universities are doing with their law enforcement agencies,” Goodman says.
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