As a doctoral student researching campus police, I was delighted to see the Globe’s July 20 editorial “Rein in campus police.”
I agree that campus police departments can serve as models for reform. Colleges are innovative and agile. Fewer students will live on campuses this year, which could facilitate experimentation. And institutions are taking a long-overdue look at their own systemic racism.
Without vigilant leadership, however, reform may occur in the opposite direction of that outlined by the Globe editorial board. Student unrest in the 1960s and ’70s spurred suppressive campus policing; the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech sparked militarization. What will Black Lives Matter bring?
The answer certainly depends on greater transparency. Transparency begins with the Justice Department’s national Survey of Campus Law Enforcement Agencies, last administered in 2011-2012. The nonprofit RTI International has received $745,875 to field the survey in 2021. COVID-19 must not derail these plans.
We must also guard against unwelcome consequences of that transparency. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report campus crimes and their responses. Though intended to enhance students’ safety, the act also incentivizes colleges to maintain and arm their own police.
Campus policing holds great progressive promise. To fulfill that promise, we cannot ignore the cautions that history provides.
The writer is pursuing a doctoral degree in sociology at Harvard University.