The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) consists of "special officers" licensed by the Massachusetts State Police, with full arrest powers (see separate entry on Massachusetts State Police). A central purpose of the HUPD is to "secure" Harvard as a private institution from people in surrounding communities. On a page articulating "Your Rights and Responsibilities When Interacting With the HUPD," the department states Harvard's requirement concerning identification cards:
Especially given the open and urban environment in which we operate, the cards are an important part of the campus’s security environment. As a result, all members of the University community are responsible for having their Harvard University identification cards available whenever present on University property. In addition, all members of the community are expected to present their Harvard identification card at the request of any properly identified University official.
In 2002, Harvard placed the campus on lockdown during its commencement activities, using bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors, and calling in support from federal law enforcement agents and the national guard. In an article subsequently published in the Harvard Crimson (Harvard's student newspaper), the HUPD chief of police cited the arrest of Palestinian activist Jaoudat Abouazza by Cambridge Police in Harvard Square as a major reason for the extraordinary security measures. ("Arrest Caused Commencement Lock Down," by Jenifer L. Steinhardt, the Crimson, November 12, 2002.) (For more on Abouazza's arrest, see separate entry on the Cambridge Police Department.) In 2003, members of the New England Committee to Defend Palestine submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request over another case closely connected to Jaoudat's arrest. The HUPD responded to this FOIA by stating that it was not subject to public records requests under Massachusetts General Laws.
In 2011, the HUPD placed Harvard Yard under lockdown during the Occupy Wall Street protests, and refused entry to anyone without a Harvard ID. Internal Department of Homeland Security briefings about the Occupy Wall Street protests show communication between HUPD and DHS through the Boston Regional Intelligence Center: "According to Harvard University PO, Newt Gingrich will be at the JFK School of Government for an event at 5:00 PM. Harvard University PO has noted that the Occupy Harvard group has called for a protest at this event. The BRIC will continue to monitor." (US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Protective Service, Threat Management Division, Daily Intelligence Briefing, 11.18.11 Region 1 https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/nppd-occupy-wall-street-redacted_Part4_0_0.pdf.) (See separate entry on BRIC.)
There have been multiple incidents of racism and racist violence by Harvard Police, especially against Black men and unhoused people who HUPD have frequently arrested or removed from Harvard property. As recounted by Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign in a letter to University administration:
Harvard routinely weaponizes city and university police against its own students and community. In spring 2018, Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) was asked to provide aid to a Black student but transferred the call to Cambridge Police instead, who physically beat the student. In fall 2019, a staff member called HUPD against a group of Latinx students participating in an approved class assignment. HUPD questioned their status as students and demanded identification from them. In September 2019, HUPD was dispatched to repress a #NoTechForICE protest at Amazon in Central Square."
A Crimson article published in 2020 documents three incidents involving the same officer, Anthony T. Carvello, engaging in physical abuse and using racist language. In spite of video footage and witness reports confirming the violence and racism, HUPD officials consistently defended Carvello. Carvello was also a "defensive tactics instructor" responsible for teaching other HUPD officers "best practices for de-escalating situations."
The presence of HUPD officers at demonstrations in Boston which followed the police murder of George Floyd brought public attention to the HUPD's participation in police mobilizations against demonstrations in Boston and Cambridge and HUPD's coordination with other police organizations across the state. The Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign called attention to the hypocrisy of Harvard University circulating emails lamenting the killing of George Floyd while at the same time providing Harvard police "to help Boston police surveil, intimidate, and suppress protesters demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others."