The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) today announced the launch of a public workload- and crime-data dashboard, an initiative that grew out of a recent wide-ranging examination of the department and aims to further increase transparency and accountability.
“This dashboard is one critical facet of the University’s commitment to reimagine ways to secure public safety and community well-being across campus,” said Executive Vice President Katie Lapp. “The recent external review of the HUPD engaged community members across all stakeholder groups, laying the groundwork for sustainable change. One of the fundamental ways we can guide and further that change is access to information and greater transparency. This dashboard, and the data it reports, will help to further that conversation, as we continue to explore the role of the HUPD and public safety at Harvard.”
“The dashboard is a resource for our department to effectively communicate with Harvard‘s students, staff, and faculty, and to ensure that we are dedicated to transparency,” added interim chief Denis Downing. “We look forward to convening ongoing conversations around this data, as we work together to create a safe, community-driven space for all who study and work on our campus.” Downing and the HUPD team will work closely with new department chief Victor Clay when he begins his tenure at Harvard on July 26. Clay’s long, distinguished career in law enforcement has been marked by a commitment to transparency and community policing,
Released in December of 2020, the external review of the HUPD, which was conducted by 21CP Solutions, established a roadmap for a community-informed process to comprehensively evaluate and reappraise public safety on campus. The review recommended creating two groups to oversee the process: an advisory board to provide guidance and feedback to the HUPD and the University on how well the department is serving the community, and a facilitating committee to convene a structured community conversation to define the Harvard community’s expectations regarding safety and well-being.
“There are very few universities currently doing the kind of reimagining of public safety that Harvard is doing, though more and more are showing an interest in doing so,” said Brenda Bond-Fortier, professor of public administration in the Institute for Public Service at Suffolk University, and a member of the 21CP Solutions review team. “The establishment of this data dashboard further solidifies Harvard’s commitment to this project and to the process of engaging with their community in a transparent and collaborative way. And I believe there is real opportunity here for Harvard to provide a model that other institutions of higher education can look to, and learn from, moving forward.”
In line with another of 21CP’s recommendations, Harvard has begun an assessment of models used by municipalities and by other institutes of higher education that implement varied response systems to calls for assistance from community members. Jack McDevitt, professor of the practice in criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern and director of the university’s Institute on Race and Justice, says data dashboards like the one launched today by Harvard can be critically important in successfully negotiating such a project.
“We are in the midst of a nationwide conversation that’s going on across the country about the appropriate role of the police,” he said. “How are our police responding to actions that we may want to think about alternative responses for, such as mental health crises for students or faculty or staff? Public conversations around transparent data that shows just how the police, and other resources, are being used, can go a long way in helping departments and community members alike to determine who is best suited to respond to specific situations.”
In addition to including data related to calls for service, at its launch, the dashboard features statistics on crime, criminal complaints, and arrests. Later this year, it will be updated to include information on field stops, use of force, and civilian complaints. Once the resource is fully completed, members of the HUPD’s Records and Compliance Unit will update the data on a quarterly basis, with the goal of monthly updates in the future.
The process for creating the dashboard, which includes data already reported under requirements of the Clery Act, drew input from the 13-member HUPD advisory board, which is comprised of students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, the University consulted with Betsy Gardner, a research assistant at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, who has extensive experience looking into how cities use data with regard to public safety, in building out the dashboard.
“Whenever we talk about how data can increase transparency, it’s important to ensure that complex information is made accessible for a wide audience,” said Gardner. “The HUPD spent significant time thinking about how to make this data understandable and give context to help community members engage with it, creating the opportunity for people to ask questions and think collectively.”
To this end, the dashboard includes helpful features such as a glossary on the different types of calls for service, as well as FAQs. The department encourages community members to email them with feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.