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Harvard campus police reports not subject to open records law, court rules
Open records advocates shift focus to state legislature
January 13, 2006

MASSACHUSETTS -- The state Supreme Judicial Court today ruled that Harvard University's campus police incident records are not subject to the state open records law.

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard's student newspaper, filed an appeal, which was heard by the state's highest court in November, in an attempt to gain greater access to the private university's police department records.

The paper claimed that because the university police force has been given official law enforcement authority by the state, it should be subject to the state's open records law.

The court held in a decision released earlier today that because Harvard University is a private entity, the open records law does not apply to it, even if the campus police department has employees performing state police functions.

"The public records law, and its implementing regulations, are applicable to documents held by public entities, not private ones. Simply put, Harvard University is a private institution," the court wrote. "The fact that some individual HUPD officers have been appointed deputy sheriffs, or special State police officers, does not transform the HUPD, itself, into an agency of the Commonwealth such that it becomes subject to the mandates of the public records law."

Although open records advocates said they are disappointed with the ruling, their focus has shifted to persuading legislators to adopt legislation making reports created by special state police officers employed by colleges and universities public record.

"We believe that students and other community members at private colleges and universities are owed the same information about crime in their communities as community members at public universities get," said Daniel Cater, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a non-profit organization advocating increased transparency in campus crime records. "It's a clear matter of public safety."

Carter's organization filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the student newspaper. The Student Press Law Center also joined in a brief before the court in support of the paper.

Carter said he hopes the full senate in Massachusetts will vote to make special state police officers employed by colleges and universities subject to open records laws sometime in the next month.

"Legislators that we have met with have been very receptive to it," he said.

--by Evan Mayor, SPLC staff writer

Case: Harvard Crimson, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, et al., No. SJC-09434 (Mass. Jan. 13, 2006)

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