Boston University student organizations have called for increased transparency at the BU Police Department following participation in counterterrorism training with Israeli forces in 2017 and interactions with protestors on campus.
Multiple local police chiefs, including BUPD Chief Kelly Nee, joined the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization focused on preventing antisemitism, for training sessions in Israel in December 2017, as reported in Telegram. These training sessions included addressing terrorist threats, dealing with unexpected crime and using intelligence and planning to prevent crimes in public spaces.
Chance Charley, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and president of BU’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said the organization is “opposed” to BUPD participating in military training with groups associated with the occupation of Palestine, as well as their “lack of transparency” with their operations.
Charley noted neither BU’s administration nor the BUPD publicly announced Chief Nee took part in the training, adding “that, in itself, is concerning.”
There is no indication that any member of BUPD has taken part in similar training since 2017.
Hadeel Abuktaish, a senior in CAS and executive secretary of SJP, said she does not see the purpose of campus police being trained in military-style techniques.
“We just don’t see a need at all for campus PD having learned these crowd dispersion techniques or learning how to use tear gas canisters from Israeli Defense Forces and Police and have that potentially being applied here,” she said. “These are the same techniques that are used to subjugate Palestinians in the West Bank.”
Chief Nee could not be reached directly for comment. A representative from BUPD deferred a request for comment to University spokesperson Colin Riley, who declined to comment.
SJP started a Change.org petition a month ago to end BUPD’s partnership with Israel that has so far received more than 250 signatures. However, Charley said the University has yet to reach out regarding the issue.
“We’ve had some contact with some officers in Student Government, but there hasn’t, to be honest, been much movement with that,” he said. “But definitely nothing from the administration, they haven’t said a word to us and I don’t think they are interested in changing anything.”
Emma Roth, a senior in the College of Fine Arts and CAS and representative of Divest BU — a campus organization dedicated to redirecting University investment in fossil fuels to renewable energy — said the club supports the abolition of BUPD.
“We are absolutely and fundamentally opposed to the existence of the BUPD as a whole,” they said. “In the absence of abolition, we stand entirely behind calls for transparency.”
Divest BU’s stance comes after plainclothes BUPD officers questioned those present at their Oct. 15 protest against the University’s inadequate new divestment plan.
“The police officers requested to speak to our club president privately, and summoned another supervisor and officer to speak to us and watch us protest,” Divest BU wrote in a statement on an Instagram post. “The officers created a hostile environment for our protest and continuously tried to interfere.”
The Instagram statement and Roth added the officers who approached the protestors appeared to have guns on them.
“After a while we were like, ‘Oh, these people very clearly have guns and handcuffs’ and when we asked to go up and deliver our petition to President Brown, we basically had to be let in by officers in uniform,” she said.
Unlike typical municipal police forces, BUPD reports directly to BU’s Vice President for Campus Planning and Operations. However, BUPD officials are authorized to make arrests in areas surrounding the University.
Aasiya Norris, a junior in CAS and co-president of Action BU — an on-campus organization for students of color and white allies to increase leftist political engagement — said the club supports the abolition of BUPD and that the existence of University police departments should not be “normalized.”
“They’re just walking around as menaces and also fully armed agents of oppression and a threat to Black life,” she said.
Norris noted that members of Action BU reached out to administrators after BUPD had a notable presence in South Campus following a series of robberies and break-ins last February.
“We expressed to the administration that it was really threatening to Black students in South to have a lot of police around the area and we didn’t really get a response that we were particularly okay with,” she said.
Norris added that local businesses often threaten to call BUPD on Black students, another reason for the club’s support of the department’s abolition.
“We’ve also had students report BUPD being used as a weapon by the local businesses,” she said. “They know that policing is inherently threatening to Black students and Black lives.”
Action BU held meetings with Senior Diversity Officer Andrea Taylor and Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore to discuss issues with BUPD. Norris said she felt her concerns were not taken seriously.
Taylor did not respond to a request for comment. Elmore responded to the concerns Action BU raised about BUPD.
“When I receive claims about other offices – in this case the BUPD – I raise them with the director and supervisor of the office for their response to the student and their concerns. In this case, I leave any comment to Chief Nee of the BUPD or Senior Diversity Officer Andrea Taylor,” Elmore wrote in an email.
Nyah Jordan, student body president and senior in the College of Communication, responded to claims made by students about a lack of action taken to address their concerns over BUPD.
“As far as this year, I know we’ve definitely had conversations over the summer and that was something we definitely brought to administration over the summer,” she said.
Jordan added that University policy change could come from the recommendation of the Community Safety Advisory Group. BUPD’s website advises people to contact a patrol supervisor at 617-353-2110 or the chief of police and executive director of public safety at 617-353-2127 with complaints.
Norris said beyond its transparency, it’s worth questioning BUPD’s effectiveness, adding that students have raised concerns over the impact policing has had on them, most of which she claims have been ignored.
“It’s really disheartening,” she said. “It makes me feel like, ‘Do they really care?’ Because their actions are really saying that they don’t.”