News

Is HBS Safe?

The HBS community has recently been plagued with a level of criminal activity unprecedented on campus. Bob Breslow, Director of Administrative Services, said that while the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD)is still compiling statistics confirming a rise in criminal activity, perceived levels are above normal and involve some “unique” situations.

Breslow said he was alarmed not just by the volume of crimes occurring in the vicinity, but by the nature of many of the crimes. “Three events indicate a more active environment over the past five to six weeks,” Breslow said. These incidents include a midday burglary September 10 from multiple secure lockers in the Shad Hall men’s locker room, a laptop theft on August 26 with the thief breaking and entering through a McCullough dorm window, and an overnight incident in the SFP parking lot on September 22 involving the vandalism of six vehicles and the theft of a seventh car.

In particular, the September 22 incident in the SFP garage prompted many to probe the security structure on campus. Among the victims was Pawan Singh (NH), whose tires and rims were removed from his car, which he had purchased less than two weeks prior to the crime. Singh believes that Harvard University is at fault. “This is just a clear case of negligence not to monitor this garage, given the high value of the property owned within the HBS community, and especially given the exposure from the ongoing construction.”

On the night of the crimes, a complete side of the parking garage was left open, allowing easy access into the garage. Harvard University Parking Services (HUPS) did not provide additional security coverage of the area during this period of exposure, leaving the garage unattended and without security cameras. Though Singh and other owners victimized in this incident had equipped their cars with alarms, no guards were on duty to hear them. “Students are asked to pay market rates for parking in the garage, which is billed as secure,” he said. “Harvard Parking did not hold up its end of the contract.”

The HUPS website advertises a facility that includes “safety measures providing students with a clean, efficient and secure place to park their vehicles”, at a price of $1,080 for nine months of 24-hour parking.

One day after the crimes, HUPS put into place a 24-hour security guard and erected a fence blocking entry through the exposed side of the garage. According to HUPS official Jim Sarafin, this action was not a reaction to the events of the prior day, but rather had been scheduled in advance of the crimes. “Our intention was to have the security office up and running as early as possible. The timing of the incident was unfortunate and no one feels worse about it than we do”, Sarafin said.

Paul Gomopoulos (NF), whose stereo system was stolen from his car on the night of the 22nd, highlights the implications of the timing of the crime.

“All signs point to this being an inside job. Whoever did this knew that the security was going to change the next day, knew which cars to hit and knew how to work the building once inside.” Gomopoulos cited the fact that the cars affected were located throughout the garage rather than in a concentrated area, suggesting that the perpetrator knew what to look for.

Additionally, the perpetrator was able to exit the garage with the stolen
goods by operating a latch release inside the garage door, a device that an outsider may not have been aware of.

The HBS campus is particularly vulnerable this year with the ongoing One Western Avenue (OWA) construction impacting the level of traffic and activity on campus. The magnitude and the haste of the project have resulted in a higher level of non-student presence from landscapers and construction teams, and this increased activity makes it easier for outsiders to blend in and for suspicious activity to go unnoticed.

Part of the security problem may lie in a division of authority that leaves no single unit completely responsible for safety on campus. The HBS administration controls security for the 33 main campus facilities up to and including East Drive, the road that runs inside campus between SFP and
Burden Auditorium. At this border, control shifts outside HBS jurisdiction.

The Spangler parking lot and the SFP parking garage are maintained by HUPS. HUPS is responsible for all administration related to parking on campus, including the issuance of citations, the collection of fees and security on the lot and in the garage. In the SFP and OWA apartment complexes, Harvard University Real Estate Services (HRES) is responsible for security. The HUPD acts as the umbrella over all of these units, and gets involved when a criminal situation occurs in any of these locations.

More than half of the laptop thefts on campus this year have occurred in SFP and OWA, which is technically outside the jurisdiction of HBS.

However, despite lack of cohesive responsibility for these surrounding
areas, with 80% of the users of the SFP parking garage and an even greater portion of residents of SFP and OWA affiliated with HBS, the school has a definite interest in monitoring and influencing the administration of these entities.

HBS employs a private security staff to patrol campus and supervise
access to campus. In addition there are 20 security cameras placed on campus to aid in additional monitoring. HUPS and HRES have separate security programs with same company and manage their rounds and post orders separately.

Some believe the issue is in providing security at the right time. HBS security patrols monitor the campus in two shifts covering the day from 8 a.m. to midnight. HRES provides SFP and OWA with a security official who is on duty from 4 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, and until 2 a.m. on weekends. After 2 a.m., when arguably the campus is least safe, there are no patrols on campus provided by HBS, HRES or HUPS. This includes the area surrounding the footbridge from Cambridge to the HBS campus.

Some safety measures are in place, however, to offer security after-hours. HBS affiliates have access to the Harvard Shuttle and SafetyWalk escort services late at night. Though the footbridge is Massachusetts state property, HBS has placed floodlights and emergency phones along the bridge. Some question whether this is enough. “The lights on the footbridge tend to make the situation worse. They are more blinding than illuminating,” said Jacqueline Ouellette (NB). “I definitely don’t feel safe walking alone across campus at night,” added Melissa Epperly (NJ).

Student disappointment with the effectiveness of campus security extends to the residential properties. “Entering One Western Avenue as a tenant is tedious as a result of the combination of multiple doors and elevators and using both our Harvard ID and a key. It’s frustrating that with all that security, we still have safety concerns,” noted Susan Herzog (NF).

According to HRES representative Anthony Pacillo, regular staff meetings are held to keep the staff of SFP and OWA updated of any safety issues within the facilities. “We are aggressively proactive with regard to security,” says Pacillo, both in terms of staff awareness and resident advisories on recommended safety precautions. HRES also has initiated lighting improvements throughout the SFP grounds to improve safety in the area.

With the opening of the OWA parking garage will come the opening of an official HUPD substation placed at the location. This facility will offer 24-hour on-campus access to HUPD officers, enabling on-campus crime reporting as well as other conveniences such as laptop registration. The opening of the parking facility is currently targeted to occur by the end of October, with the HUPD station potentially opening slightly later, according to Sarafin. HUPS believes that the OWA facility will incorporate the highest level of security technology available, and will be open only to tenants of OWA and SFP. In addition, HUPS will be providing
roving monitors and vans to cover the facilities.

The Student Association hosted Breslow, along with Sergeant Dan Brown and Officer Theresa McCullough from the HUPD, at its Senate meeting on Tuesday, September 30 to discuss a plan for fostering communication between students and the HBS administration regarding campus security.

Mitch Weiss (OF), Co-Chair of the SA’s Student Services Committee, summarized the sentiments of the meeting. “The SA asked the administration and the HUPD to meet with the Senate about campus security for three reasons: We wanted to convey our level of concern on behalf of the students, we wanted to hear directly about the measures being taken to improve security and we wanted to begin a very important dialogue. This last reason is perhaps most important; we know that students have valuable, creative ideas to share. HUPD values their partnership with the community. We want to fulfill our obligation to that partnership.”

Until further action can be taken, Breslow urges that heightened awareness of the situation on campus should continue. Most of the crimes committed on campus have involved unlocked doors or unattended property, and HUPD notes that 90% of crimes at HBS are crimes of opportunity. Breslow emphasizes the need for students to approach security on campus as a partnership. “The community shares in a collective responsibility to secure the campus. We aim to give the community the tools to maintain a secure environment, but we need the help of the students to be truly effective. We can give you the lock on the door, but we can’t lock it for you.”

Breslow acknowledged that HBS should be questioning whether the response to the criminal incidents is at a level commensurate with the increased activity. “Harvard in general maintains an open and accessible environment to provide the atmosphere that people seek in an academic institution. Should we be moving to more of a lock-down approach to make the campus more secure, but a little less convenient? We need community input on this.”

Students recognize this tenuous balance between necessary security versus restrictions to access on campus. “One of the great things about HBS is the trust that the Administration has in the community and the freedom that allows us. However, we are beginning to see the downside of having such a porous system,” noted Patrick McGinnis (OG). The circumstances of the past six weeks on campus indicate that the time has come for HBS to reconsider its level of campus security.

Editor’s note: The Harbus plans to continually monitor this situation and encourages students to share their viewpoints.

October 6, 2003
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