Five Takeaways From The Crimson’s Investigation Into the Harvard University Police Department

The Crimson published a months-long investigation of HUPD Friday, surfacing allegations of racism and sexism within the police force. Here’s what you need to know about the story.
By Ema R. Schumer

The Harvard University Police Department maintains offices on Massachusetts Avenue.
The Harvard University Police Department maintains offices on Massachusetts Avenue. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah

For the most part, Harvard affiliates know Harvard University police officers as the men and women who patrol campus events, frequent the dining halls, and help freshmen move into their dorms. Within the department’s walls, though, HUPD is divided over incidents involving female officers and officers of color, and allegations of favoritism and retaliation.

The Crimson published a months-long investigation of HUPD Friday, surfacing allegations of racism and sexism within the police force. Here’s what you need to know about the story.

The Crimson found repeated instances of racism and sexism in the Harvard University Police Department spanning nearly three decades.

In MCAD filings, lawsuits, internal documents, meetings with prominent Harvard administrators, and interviews, 21 current and former HUPD employees alleged the department’s leaders have disciplined officers differently because of their race, gender, or personal relationships with the department’s top authority figures.

Current and former officers identified HUPD Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley, a former Massachusetts State Police lieutenant colonel who has headed HUPD for nearly a quarter-century, as the source of what they called a toxic culture in the department.

Officers alleged that HUPD has not taken strong enough action to combat racism in the department.

Current and former HUPD officers described a slew of racist incidents in the department. White officers have called black officers racist epithets, and one officer showed a recent photo of himself in blackface to minority officers.

Officers also said they perceived a discrepancy in how HUPD disciplines officers across those incidents.

HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano said that the department investigates all infractions of HUPD policy once it becomes aware. A report is presented to the chief, who decides the specific terms of discipline on a case-by-case basis.

Female officers said that they feel mistreated. One compared working at HUPD to being in an abusive relationship.

At least five female officers have voiced concerns about gender discrimination to Harvard administrators and union leaders, filed complaints with MCAD, or sued the University over the past three decades.

“No matter what we do we have to keep taking it, and keep taking it, and keep taking it, because at the end of the day, we need to pay the bills,” one female officer said.

One recent incident, in particular, crystallized the problems women face at HUPD, officers said.

On Jan. 8, HUPD terminated officer Corina F. Maher, who sustained a serious ear injury after sergeant and range instructor Charles P. Hanson negligently fired his weapon at a HUPD gun range, according to an incident report written by Maher that is available to officers on an internal HUPD database.

Several officers familiar with the situation accused the department of not adequately investigating the negligent firing partially because Maher is a woman.

Maher’s injury ultimately rendered her unable to work, and as a result she took a medical leave. Roughly six months after Maher went on medical leave, several officers said, Harvard fired Maher in accordance with University policy stating the right to terminate an employee who has been on medical leave for at least half a year.

Five officers said that in recent years, however, the department did not terminate several male officers who had been out on medical leave for longer than six months.

Title IX coordinator for Harvard Human Resources and HUPD Maria Mejia said the University’s central human resources office decides whether to enforce the six-month guideline on a case-by-case basis.

“[It] depends on a gamut of issues, including staffing and operational needs at the time or uncertainty of return to work,” she said.

Officers said Riley shows favoritism to employees who demonstrate loyalty while he ignores those inside the department who voice concerns about racism and sexism.

Interviewed officers alleged that Riley has promoted a broader culture at the department that allows for discriminatory behavior.

When Riley joined the department, he made a series of changes that officers alleged enabled him to gain greater control over hiring and promotions. Several officers said Riley grants favored deputies the privilege of using “take-home” cars, which come with Harvard-funded gas cards and insurance.

Four officers confirmed that the department has roughly 20 take-home vehicles. By comparison, MIT's police department has just one. Northeastern’s police department has two. Under the previous HUPD chief, the department had fewer than five take-home cars, according to officers familiar with the situation.

Officers accused prominent Harvard administrators of knowing about the department’s issues, but not taking strong action.

Many officers interviewed said University administrators outside of the department have long been aware of issues with Riley’s leadership but have failed to take sufficient action.

On several occasions, officers have brought their concerns directly to top Harvard officials, including Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay, Senior Advisor to the President John S. Wilson, and ombudsman Lydia L. Cummings.

Wilson also had a meeting with Riley and Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp regarding “climate issues” at HUPD, according to an email obtained by The Crimson. Lapp wrote in an emailed response to HUPD officers’ allegations that she believes the department and Riley play a vital role on campus.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the specific allegations brought to light by The Crimson’s investigation, writing in an email that the University does not comment on individual personnel matters.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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