The committee reviewing Harvard’s police department has scaled down its efforts to solicit feedback from Harvard affiliates as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, though the department’s leadership said it remains committed to an internal review launched in February.
Harvard University Police Department Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley launched the review into his department following an investigation by The Crimson that found instances of racism and sexism within Riley’s department. In interviews and court documents, 21 current and former HUPD employees accused the department’s leadership of showing favoritism and retaliating against those who spoke out against an allegedly hostile work environment created by Riley.
In February, Riley appointed two national law enforcement experts to lead the assessment and selected five HUPD employees and a Harvard Human Resources representative to review the department’s policies and meet with Harvard affiliates. Riley wrote in an email to the department that the working group would periodically report to him and University Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp and would share its findings with the department by the end of the academic year.
Working group member and HUPD deputy chief Denis Downing wrote in an email to department employees on Friday that the working group “has slowed down on the outreach efforts” due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We have, understandably so, had to cancel outreach events like Dean’s meetings, student group meetings, and other in person efforts,” he wrote.
Downing first shared various opportunities for members of the department to speak with the working group in another email to HUPD employees dated March 9. The following day, University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced Harvard would transition to remote learning and also asked students to vacate their dorms by March 15.
Though current social distancing guidelines prevent the working group from holding in-person meetings, Downing wrote in his most recent email that committee members remain interested in hearing from department employees remotely.
“Do not hesitate to reach out to any of the working group members if you’d like to have a conversation, and we will figure the best channel to do so, given the circumstances,” Downing wrote.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email that the working group will continue to work in accordance with public health guidance.
“The purpose and goals of the review remain a priority for the Department, and the leadership team is committed to continuing the progress of the working group,” he wrote.
Catalano declined to comment on whether the information-gathering phase of the review is still on schedule to conclude by the end of the academic year.
The review faced some challenges, even prior to the delays. In March, the executive board members of the Harvard police union raised concerns with it, citing the review’s ties to the department and Riley. They called for an independent, external party to conduct the review.
While he did not directly reference the union’s concerns, Downing wrote that employees who wish to provide feedback anonymously can do so via a University-wide hotline, which is run by Navex Global, an independent, third party company.