Harvard paper sues school for not releasing police records

MASSACHUSETTS — Harvard University’s student newspaper filedsuit against the school on July 30 after student journalists were denied accessto campus police reports. The Harvard Crimson claimed that becauseHarvard police officers have official law enforcement authority including thepower to arrest people off campus, they should be bound by the MassachusettsPublic Records Law.The Crimson requested incident reports in Junefrom the Harvard University Police Department, the Cambridge Police Departmentand the Boston Police Department regarding specific incidents, including analleged embezzlement by two Harvard students. The school does provide a publicpolice log as required by another state law provision.According to thelawsuit, Harvard police officers denied the request and claimed they did nothave to release the records because the police department is not a public entityand “is excluded from the requirements of the statute governing requests forpublic records.” Both the Cambridge police and the Boston police responded toThe Crimson’s request and provided several documents in compliance withstate law, the lawsuit states.Although private universities aregenerally not bound by the state open-records law, the newspaper argued thecampus police should be required to release records because officers “possesspolicing powers unique to public law enforcement agencies,” the lawsuit states.Several officers are sworn in as special state police officers and possessdeputy sheriff powers in Middlesex and Suffolk counties. According to thelawsuit, they are empowered to stop, question, detain and formally arrestindividuals.Amit Paley, Crimson president, said the Harvardjournalists decided to sue because of the humiliation of being repeatedly deniedaccess to records during the past three years.”We realized that to fullyinform the community of what’s going on, in terms of crime and in terms of whatour police officers in our community are doing, we need to have access to theserecords,” Paley said. “We can’t do our job fully if we don’t have access tothem.”Harvard issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, statingthat university administrators believe their “procedures are sound and properand in full compliance with the law.”Harvard University has 20 days fromthe July 29 filing date to respond to the suit, a Crimson lawyersaid.