MIT Police Department Responses to Community Inquiries

Responses to some of the frequently asked questions of MIT Police

MIT Police have great respect for the peaceful protests that have taken place after the brutal killing of George Floyd, and we know that this tragic event is one of many injustices those who are Black in America have suffered at the hands of police over time.

Since the murder of Mr. Floyd, the MIT Police Department has received a number of questions from members of the MIT community related to our protocols and procedures. This outreach is welcome, and following are our responses to the most frequently asked questions.

Relationship with other police departments

What is the jurisdiction and authority of MIT Police?

MIT Police are responsible for the safety and security of all members of the MIT community, with jurisdiction at any properties owned, operated, leased or rented by the Institute. Like all campus police departments in the Commonwealth, our officers are licensed and derive their ability to exercise police duties through the Massachusetts State Police. In order to be licensed and recognized as police officers, certain requirements with regard to training and certifications must be met (see Policies and Procedures section). Licensing through the state is required because only government agencies can lawfully authorize a police department. MIT, as a private entity, cannot independently do so.

In addition, MIT Police officers are sworn in as deputy sheriffs in Middlesex, Norfolk, and Suffolk Counties. This does not mean that MIT Police are responding to incidents or reports in those areas that do not involve MIT community members or properties. Rather, it affords them the ability to engage should they be asked or required to exercise some sort of police intervention while on duty and traveling to and from an MIT location not contiguous to MIT’s main campus.

What is the MIT Police Department’s relationship with local municipal police departments?

MIT Police are sworn officers and employees of the Institute, and our foremost responsibility is providing protection and security to our MIT community. We are fully independent of the municipal police departments in our host communities, including Cambridge and Boston, and have no formal contractual relationship or memorandum of understanding with the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) or any other law enforcement entity. On rare occasions, we do request specialized services from CPD that MIT Police don’t have. These services are primarily involving explosives detection security sweeps and traffic posts around large-scale events such as Commencement.

Has the MIT Police Department participated or responded to protests in Boston or Cambridge?

No. The MIT Police Department has not responded to any request for assistance from the Boston or Cambridge Police Departments, nor have we provided any support. We take seriously our duty to protect individuals exercising their First Amendment rights to express their views through peaceful protest.

Can Cambridge or Massachusetts State Police respond to incidents or come onto MIT’s campus without invitation?

Legally, law enforcement officers with the city or state may come onto MIT’s campus without a formal invitation or permission as our campus resides within their jurisdiction. However, in practice, they generally do not do so without first sharing their intentions with MIT Police, for example in cases where a warrant may need to be served to an employee.

MIT’s campus is also surrounded by a number of publicly-owned streets and spaces that officers other than the men and women of MIT Police may patrol.

On the #8CantWait recommendations

Does the MIT Police Department follow the recommendations of

1) Ban chokeholds and strangleholds:

Yes. The use of chokeholds and strangleholds is not permitted by MIT Police officers and they are trained not to use chokeholds or strangleholds.

2) Require de-escalation:

Yes. A focus on de-escalation is central to MIT Police training, and an important component to our mission of protecting and serving our MIT community. We consider arrest and any use of force to be last resorts. Our officers have been trained to work strategically to resolve and de-escalate incidents, not escalate situations. Our officers’ training in this area exceeds what is required by the Massachusetts Police Training Committee.

3) Require warning before shooting:

Yes. MIT Police Department policy and training requires officers to identify themselves as an MIT Police Officer and demand that the person stop, or to provide other commands as the situation requires before engaging their firearm. It is also important to note that we reviewed our records for the past twenty years and did not find any incident where a MIT police officer discharged a firearm, other than for training purposes.

4) Exhaust all other means before shooting:

Yes. MIT police officers are trained and expected to use the least amount of force required to mitigate force being used against them. Our officers are authorized to use their firearms only if there is an immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person, and only if no alternative is available.

5) Duty to intervene and stop excessive force by other officers:

MIT has a Duty to Intervene Policy in which MIT police officers are expected to intervene if they witness an excessive use of force by another officer.

6) Ban shooting at moving vehicles:

In almost all cases, yes. Our policy and training prohibit an officer from discharging a firearm at a moving vehicle, unless the motorist is jeopardizing human life by using that vehicle as a deadly weapon.

7) Require use-of-force continuum:

Yes. MIT Police Department training follows a model policy from the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the MPTC Use of Force Continuum, which is taught at the academy and reinforced annually at our In-Service Training. No officer may use more force than is necessary in any situation. We train our officers in the practical application of the use-of-force continuum using a use-of-force simulator.

8) Require comprehensive reporting each time an officer uses forces or threatens to do so:

Yes. MIT Police Department policy requires that our officers’ activities be documented. Any use of force, or threatened use of force, is documented in a report, which is reviewed by a supervisor. The department thoroughly investigates any incident where an officer uses force against a person, or injures a person. Additionally, each year we review incidents that involved use of force, for possible training or policy enhancements.

This reporting requirement, and our institutional response (see Accountability and Oversight section), is the same whether the reported incident takes place on campus in Cambridge or other properties owned, leased, operated by or affiliated with MIT, such as our Haystack Observatory and Bates Research and Engineering Center campus, as well as our FSILGs (fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups).

Policies and procedures

What are the “responsibilities, limitations, and powers” of the MIT Police, and what equipment is available?

Providing the highest level of services and protection to the MIT community and campus are our foremost emphasis and responsibility. The MIT Police is a full-time, duly sworn and armed police department. We employ academy-trained officers and supervisors who provide police services and respond to medical emergencies within the MIT community 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to our sworn police officers, the police department has employees who provide administrative support services and work as dispatchers in our emergency communications center.

Our police officers are required to attend annual training that follows the requirements of the Massachusetts Police Training Committee (MPTC) in collaboration with the Cambridge and Harvard University Police Departments. Our police authority and powers are derived under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 22C, Section 63. As such, MIT Police officers are sworn in as a class of special state police officers with arrest authority and the licensing is through the State Police. In addition, our officers are deputy sheriffs in Middlesex County and Suffolk County.

While our equipment is similar to most major university police departments, we don’t use military tactics or employ military-grade weapons or other equipment. MIT Police purchased tactical rifles in 2012, which are not military grade, to ensure our preparedness to respond to an active shooter or mass casualty incident with a determined assailant on campus.

Our officers take great pride in interacting with MIT students, faculty, staff and other MIT community members. We regularly make efforts to self-assess and listen to the community in order to improve and best support the needs of those we serve and protect.

Why are MIT Police officers armed?

We are a high-profile campus, located in the heart of a major metropolitan area. Every year, people both inside and outside MIT make a number of threats against the Institute, and against individual members of our community. A terrible reminder is the tragic 2013 murder of an MIT police officer shot to death while working on our campus in connection with the Boston bombing.

As noted above, our weapons and equipment are similar to most major university police departments. The weapons we have are mostly to ensure that we can protect the safety of the campus, including first responders to an active shooter or other possible mass casualty incident where every second and minute counts. Given our proximity and deep familiarity with the layout and navigation of MIT’s buildings and campus, MIT Police will most likely be the first to respond on-scene in any potential mass casualty incident.

At numerous times — but especially in the wake of the incident in 2013, when an MIT Police officer was killed in the line of duty by fugitives trying to steal his gun — we have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of arming our officers. We have determined that this approach is essential to providing our community a level of protection that is worthy of MIT.

Why is the Dean on Call service routed through the MIT Police Department?

The Dean on Call system is operational outside of regular business hours: from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, on weekends, and on MIT-observed holidays. Because the MIT Police Department is one of the few MIT offices staffed to handle calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, we provide a service to connect the Dean on Call in off hours to an on-call student life professional for immediate response. In some situations, we may be involved with follow-up as needed.

Are the MIT Police regulations, and specifically the “Use of Force” policy, accessible to the general public and to the MIT community?

Our policies, including the use of force policy, are largely based on recommendations of the Massachusetts Police Training Committee and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. They have not been previously published, nor is it a common practice among our peer institutions to do so.

We support having our policies more transparent to the public. Recent events have provided the impetus for our department, in partnership with the Office of General Counsel, to review these policies and develop a public presentation summarizing their key elements. We are in the early stages of that process. In the interim, we hope this resource is helpful.

Accountability and oversight

What prevents acts of violence by police officers on the MIT campus?

The MIT Police Department has recorded no complaints of excessive force in nearly a decade. We take great pride in this record, and we place high value on our badges as symbols of our community’s trust.

We believe our success is rooted in a comprehensive selection process for hiring officers. We always aim to hire individuals who possess the skills, knowledge, and abilities to support our service- and community-orientated philosophy for an effective and respected campus police department. We also provide training in current best practices, and an emphasis on striving to cultivate mutual trust and mutually respectful relationships with all members of our community.

Still, we welcome looking at different ways that we can do better, to make sure we are giving the Institute the best possible police services, and have started a dialogue with our students to inform them of our practice and review options for enhancing our service to the community. As Chief of Police John DiFava has said: “We are a part of this beautiful MIT community, and we want to be involved in dialogue with the community we serve. That can only make things better.”

What measures are currently in place to ensure that police requests for identification are not disproportionately made to Black students, or students of color?

The MIT Police Department reviews all of our officers’ stops (an encounter in which identification is requested), and analyzes the frequency of those encounters with regard to race, gender, and MIT affiliation. As stated above, we are having productive conversations with Black student leaders about being more transparent about our policies, and sharing aggregate data on responses to incidents, complaints, and any discipline of our officers.

We are well aware of systemic injustices that people of color have faced at the hands of the police. While we believe our police officers treat everyone fairly, we do understand there is much to learn. As one step to further educate ourselves we participated in a training this year on Historical Injustice and Present Policing; this is a new training derived from a research project that Professor Melissa Nobles, dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, conducts in collaboration with Professor Margaret Burnham at Northeastern Law School and the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

We are committed to continual improvement, to looking inward with self-reflection, and to engaging in further dialogue on these issues to make change a reality here at MIT.

Complaints and misconduct

How do I make a complaint against an MIT Police Officer?

You can contact MIT Police directly via email, a phone call, visit to the station, or an online feedback form. When calling or emailing, you may choose to file anonymously. You also do not have to identify yourself if you make the complaint in person.

If you prefer not to report to the MIT Police directly, MIT has established an anonymous reporting hotline for whistleblower or other complaints about wrongdoing and violations of Institute policy. The reporting system is hosted and maintained by a third-party vendor called Ethicspoint. You can file a complaint with Ethicspoint anonymously although in many cases, MIT is better able to respond to complaints that are not anonymous.

If your complaint involves allegations of discrimination or discriminatory harassment, you can also file a complaint with the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response (IDHR) Office.

Other resources available to assist an individual in bringing a complaint forward include MIT Human Resources and the Ombuds Office.

What happens in response to a complaint against an MIT police offer? Do public records or reports for cases of alleged police violence/harassment by police/abuses of power exist?

Depending on the nature of the complaint, the appropriate office at MIT reviews the complaint, and where appropriate, does an investigation. On average, we receive fewer than five complaints a year of all types against officers. We investigate some complaints within the police department, while other reviews are handled by MIT Human Resources. The Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer, which oversees the MIT Police, is also notified of complaints and their outcome.

Every complaint and any resulting disciplinary action, including a verbal reprimand, is documented with MIT Police and MIT Human Resources. As with other MIT employees, personnel type records are not public documents, and we follow the laws and our policies in maintaining the privacy of such records. As shared earlier, our department has not received any written complaint of excessive use of force in nearly a decade.

Whether a complaint is made about action on campus or at an FSILG outside of Cambridge, the process for response and investigation by MIT Police will be the same. Specifically, if it takes place outside of Cambridge, we do not lose or cede any ability to investigate and take action.

Why isn’t police misconduct covered by the Annual Security Report?

The Annual Security Report is compiled in compliance with the federal Clery Act, which does not request information about police misconduct. Looking ahead, we recognize there are opportunities to share further information on an annual basis about the police. We welcome the conversation taking place now within the MIT community, and anticipate new mechanisms for sharing information and communicating within the community, while still respecting the privacy of our employees.

Does MIT have a Police Union called the MIT Campus Police Association? What protections does it offer its officers and what contracts does it hold?

Yes. Since the 1970s, patrol officers have been represented by the MIT Campus Police Association, which has a contract with MIT that sets forth certain terms and conditions of employment for the patrol officers. Details of the contract are not published.