Ahead of City Council hearing, Northeastern provides key facts on police capabilities

Northeastern University, on Friday, provided a written response to the Boston City Council’s public hearing request on the tactical capabilities of the Northeastern Police Department.

The hearing, scheduled for Monday evening, is the result of an order filed by Councilors Josh Zakim and Tito Jackson that states that Northeastern “made this decision unilaterally, and without the collaboration or approval of BPD.”

The university’s written statement refutes the councilors’ claims and says, in part, “The councilors’ premise for calling a public hearing is nonexistent, and we consider the hearing scheduled for February 29 unnecessary.”

In its statement, the university offers evidence that the hearing request is based upon claims that are both flawed and false. The university also contends that the hearing unjustly singles out Northeastern, despite numerous other Boston-based universities employing similar tactical capabilities, and that a public hearing threatens to disrupt the ongoing, productive conversations among Boston’s law enforcement leaders, including NUPD, the Boston Police Department, and Mayor Marty Walsh.

The university’s most recent letter to the City Council follows a written statement issued to the council in January. Details about that letter were covered in a Jan. 27 news@Northeastern article. Michael Davis, chief of the Northeastern Police Department and director of public safety, sat down in December with news@Northeastern for a comprehensive discussion on NUPD’s work.

The full text of the letter delivered to the council on Friday appears below. View a PDF of the letter here.

February 25, 2016

Councilor Andrea Campbell
1 City Hall Square, Suite 550
Boston, MA 02201-2043

Dear Councilor Campbell,
This letter is in response to the Public Hearing Notice issued by the Boston City Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice regarding the Northeastern University Police Department’s tactical weapons capability.

Councilors Josh Zakim and Tito Jackson have called for this public hearing based on claims that Northeastern decided to increase the tactical capabilities of its Incident Containment Team “without the collaboration and approval of BPD” and made “no effort to consult or involve” the local community. These statements are not accurate.

In my previous letter to the City Council, dated January 26, 2016 (also attached) I outlined Northeastern University’s ongoing communications with the Boston Police Department around increasing the tactical capability of NUPD officers to protect university students and employees on our campus.

In my letter, and in subsequent meetings with the councilors, we have provided a detailed timeline of al l communication between NUPD and BPD dating back to October of last year. The councilors’ premise for calling a public hearing is nonexistent, and we consider the hearing scheduled for February 29 unnecessary.

Moreover, Northeastern University law enforcement leadership has had very productive conversations with both the Mayor and leadership of BPD around ongoing collaboration, including joint training. The strong partnership between our two organizations is built around the shared goal of keeping the communities within Boston safe. Together, we are focused on strengthening the collective capacity of local law enforcement to work together in the event of an active shooter incident on Northeastern’s campus. Northeastern values the collective competencies of BPD and other area agencies, and is committed to fostering cooperation on critical public safety matters.

Additionally, the law enforcement personnel of many Boston-area higher education institutions have similar capabilities to protect their communities in active shooter situations. Yet, the proposed February 29 hearing focuses on only one institution: Northeastern. No other university has been invited to participate in the hearing, and none have been criticized for not participating in a community process. In fact, there is no process “to consult or involve” the local community because a tactical weapons capability is a necessarily discrete capability that should involve corresponding police departments and law enforcement agencies.

Despite there being no process to include community members in decisions involving a private institution’s inward-facing law enforcement capabilities, on February 17, law enforcement and community affairs leadership from Northeastern met with Councilors Zakim and Jackson to discuss the councilors’ concerns. Northeastern leaders have also met with representatives of the Black Ministerial Alliance and Ten Point Coalition. In every meeting, Northeastern representatives explained the purpose of NUPD’s Incident Containment Team and how its tactical weapons would only be deployed in response to a verified active shooter threat on our campus, and not in surrounding neighborhoods.

With these undisputed facts in mind, we ask you to include this correspondence and the January 26 letter into the record of the City Council, and we respectfully decline the invitation extended to members of the Northeastern University administration to appear at the February 29 hearing.

While Northeastern’s strong partnership with the Boston Police Department and other local agencies is integral to the safety of our campus, Northeastern University police officers are charged with the explicit responsibility of protecting the university’s 77-acre campus, and its students and employees. NUPD officers are members of an accredited department that is led by Chief Michael Davis, a national expert on urban policing, who has more than 20 years of experience as a municipal police officer and leader. Chief Davis is also a police-practicing expert who has consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice on a number of urban police matters.

The authority of the NUPD officers resides under a state statute that enables them to serve as Special State Police Officers of the Massachusetts State Police. To fulfill their responsibilities, NUPD must equip and train its officers to handle the variety of emergency situations that might arise on a college campus, including active shooter situations.

We will continue our collaborations with BPD and other area law enforcement agencies, as well as with Mayor Walsh, around these and other important issues affecting our great city.

Respectfully submitted,
Ralph C. Martin, II
Senior Vice President and General Counsel