FOIA Request Seeks Copies of Emails Between Harvard University Police and Cambridge Police
Subject to the lore of the cruel hazing rituals of its secret societies, and the backdrop for dozens of movies about the seedy underbelly of Ivy life, Harvard University is no stranger to controversy. But what local activists have noticed in the past few years is a more systemic and dangerous issue: the militarization of Harvard’s campus, and its tendency to arrest anyone who dissents from their version of veritas.
Three recent incidents expose the extent to which Harvard will go to protect its reputation, though these are not the first, or only, examples:
1. In November 2011, Harvard Yard was shut down to the public as a result of Occupy Harvard’s presence. All those students practicing civil disobedience prompted the university to station multiple Harvard University Police officers and Securitas guards at every exit, and they locked out protesters who left and attempted to return.
2. On May 1st, 2014, Harvard University junior Brett Roche was arrested by Harvard University Police for sitting outside the building where President Drew Faust’s office is located. Roche had been protesting the administration’s unwillingness to discuss the institution’s funding of companies that contribute to climate change, and its lack of a stance on how it would create policies to combat climate change.
3. On September 15th, 2014, Roman Torgovitsky was arrested by Harvard University Police for attempting to ask a question of the band Pussy Riot as they delivered a lecture. He had been banned from campus in May 2014 when he jumped on stage during the concert of a Russian violinist to ask about his support of Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.
All three cases are made even more disturbing by the fact that Harvard University Police officers are deputized. This means that they can carry guns, fire them at will, arrest people and bring them to jail—all without the oversight of a government institution. What it also means is that when an arrest is made, and city resources are used, there must be a publicly-available paper trail.
These are the pieces of information that led me to file a FOIA request to the City of Cambridge, asking for any and all email exchanges between Harvard University Police and the Cambridge Police Department surrounding these dates. They responded, weeks later, saying that the request would cost $9,000 to complete.
The reason? To create a PDF of these emails, they would need to print them all out and scan them back into the computer as a PDF file.
When asked why they could not provide the information in a PDF format without printing off every email—something that federal agencies such as the CIA have been able to do without issue—Paul Kawai, in the Office of the City Solicitor, declined to provide the documents in the format requested.
“Conversion of the documents requested, given that there is estimated to be about 25,000 pages responsive to this request (which is a very conservative estimate), would be very time consuming and would cause some backup of the use of the office scanning equipment,” Kawai wrote in an email.
He still refused to acknowledge that anyone at the City knows how to create a PDF electronically. I narrowed down my request, so that it includes only emails exchanged between November 1st, 2011-January 31st, 2012 and April 30th, 2014 to the present day. This request only requires $3,830.65—$1,400 of which is for printing and scanning costs.
Nadeem Mazen, a Cambridge City Councillor, has brought the issue to the City Clerk’s office. He has proposed that the City provide two things: timely responses to FOIA requests that do not make outlandish requests for unnecessary labor, and someone on staff who can fulfill them accurately without incurring thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money
Until these requests are fulfilled, and the City makes substantial changes to the way they treat journalists and release public records, I ask for your help in crowdfunding this initiative to bring greater transparency to two institutions that are refusing to operate in the best interests of the people they serve: https://www.muckrock.com/foi/cambridge-5/harvard-pdcambridge-pd-emails-13368/#1344928-payment-required
Sarah Cadorette is a community activist and writer who recently ran a non-profit center in Harvard Square that housed banner-making activities for the protests against Harvard University's climate change silence.