Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Margolis Healy did not conduct an unbiased investigation of the UMPD

The UMass-hired firm investigated officers’ conduct during an on-campus arrest last November
Kayla Wong / Daily Collegian.

Last November, a student of color was arrested and charged for assault and battery for unintentionally entering a construction zone. This story isn’t about him. Instead, this article will investigate the company that, according to the police union’s statement, “exonerated” the cops involved of any wrongdoing: Margolis Healy.

The company is unabashedly biased in favor of the University of Massachusetts Police Department and is in favor of the police in general. Margolis Healy’s policy recommendations are lacking and focus too heavily on providing more funding to the department.

Following the arrest and subsequent backlash from students, staff, faculty and community members, UMass launched an investigation headed by Margolis Healy. Margolis Healy is a consulting firm that provides a variety of services to organizations around the country, including Title IX assessments, “implementation of lethal and less-than-lethal force options” and investigations of police conduct, according to its website. Among other areas like workplaces and K-12 schools, Margolis Healy deals with issues of security and policing on college campuses.

On the decision to hire Margolis Healy, Chancellor Subbaswamy wrote, “The decision by UMPD Chief Tyrone Parham to retain the firm, which Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Brandi Hephner LaBanc and I fully support, was made to ensure that the investigation is comprehensive, independent and unbiased.”

However, the assertion that the investigation has been unbiased is questionable, to say the least.

The company is deeply entrenched in police circles. Out of the 38 leaders, staff and associates displayed on its website, 60 percent have been in high-level positions in town or campus police departments. These include chiefs and deputy chiefs from universities such as Rutgers, the University of Chicago and the University of Washington.

Margolis Healy’s explicit police ties go all the way to the top. Since at least 2007, co-founder and current CEO Steven Healy has publicly spoken in favor of stronger, better funded and more heavily equipped campus police forces. At a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Healy advocated for “greater Federal, State, and local support for campus public safety agencies” and stressed that Congress should “[create] a dedicated funding stream” to further bolster police departments on university campuses.

As recently as September 2022, Healy also advocated the implementation of a new campus police force at Johns Hopkins University despite vocal protests from staff, students and the community. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Healy said that “other institutions can take away some best practices from Hopkins’ rollout.” This indicates a willingness to shut down dissenting community voices, which comes as no surprise given their responses to police overreach in Amherst.

After the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in 2014, and after the George Floyd uprisings in 2020, there were national conversations around police violence, alternative forms of justice and new public safety programs. “Defund the police” (or “abolish the police”) became a rallying cry for a wide swath of reformers who sought a reimagining of justice in the U.S. The goal was to instead put funds towards initiatives that prioritize racial justice, public safety and mental health awareness while moving away from punitive and punishing measures. This includes campus police, who many have argued have too much power and too little accountability.

Margolis Healy has not learned any lessons from these important reckonings.

Healy’s “more, more, more” attitude for police funding is clearly reflected in the Executive Summary of the UMass investigation report, where Margolis Healy advises that the UMass Police Department invest in costly solutions like increasing training and implementing body cameras.

These “solutions” have been parroted around the country, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, but research has shown mixed results. According to the National Institute of Justice, a DOJ agency specializing in research, “[a] comprehensive review of 70 studies of body-worn cameras use … showed no consistent or no statistically significant effects.” So why does Margolis Healy advocate body cameras, which increases university police funding, as a solution? This author is unsure.

The final nail in the coffin for any claims of unbiased investigation is that the firm has local ties to the police. CEO Healy is the former president of the Massachusetts Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (MACLEA), an organization that seeks “to promote the common interest in the administration of law enforcement programs including … on campuses.” Fundamentally, it is a networking, training and public relations space for campus cops. Healy, as a former president, would likely know member departments well and have an interest in protecting their image and interests.

The UMPD is a member department of MACLEA.

Some may say the CEO’s extensive involvement in police circles gives the firm experience in keeping campuses safe. However, it compromises Margolis Healy’s ability to stay objective as an investigator into instances of police abuse of power.

A bias in favor of UMPD officers is evident in the report that the campus community received. According to the report, hidden in the fine print, three of the eight witnesses interviewed in the investigation came from within the UMPD. The report also claims that “the officers did not conduct themselves in a manner inconsistent with Massachusetts state law,” despite witness testimony that, to me, demonstrates excessive use of force and that police escalated the situation. It refuses to acknowledge that three officers, two SUVs and an assault charge is a ridiculous response for an initial offense that, at its worst, amounted to jaywalking.

Margolis Healy is not a neutral, unbiased organization. It is demonstrably pro-police, founded by former officers and acting in opposition to the will of students, faculty, staff and community members. This “investigation” amounts to the police questioning themselves and finding themselves innocent. The decision to use Margolis Healy’s report to exonerate the University and the UMPD of any wrongdoing is misguided at best and negligent at worst.

The entire UMass system —including UMass Dartmouth and UMass Boston, who have had their own issues with police— needs to reconsider its relationship with campus policing. It is high time that Massachusetts colleges and universities joined campuses around the country and the world in not allowing any police force on campus. Instead, our tuition money should go to public safety measures that community members have control over and do not threaten the livelihoods, careers and lives of students.

James Simpson can be reached at [email protected].

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