New Harper Police Chief promises “integrity and accountability”

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Harper’s new Chief of Police, John Lawson, was sworn in January. Photo courtesy of Harper College.

On his second day on the job, Harper’s new Chief of Police, John Lawson, signed the Ten Shared Principles, an agreement between the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the state’s NAACP chapter affirming the value of human life, rejecting discrimination, and agreeing to build relationships and trust with the community. At the time, Harper was one of the few colleges in Illinois whose police department was yet to have signed.

Chief Lawson was sworn in as Harper College’s new chief of police in January, following a job search for the position that claimed to prioritize equity, inclusion and accountability. 

After last summer’s unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a police officer–Harper President Dr. Avis Proctor emphasized the need of a new chief of police who understood these priorities– in various town hall meetings and communication points with the Harper Community. 

In an interview with the Harbinger, Chief Lawson said he has several plans to help mend the relationship between police and the community.

One of these is to hold seminars hosted by the IACP and representatives of local NAACP chapters.

“There are 23 police departments that feed into Harper, and my goal is to invite all 23 chiefs to these workshops,” explained the chief, who has 37 years of experience on the force. 

There is still work to be done to earn the trust of Harper’s students of color, according to members of the Black Student Union who expressed  their concerns were not being heard in this Instagram Live discussion last summer. 

Lawson said he understood their concerns and promised “integrity and accountability” on his watch.

“If there’s an allegation of any kind of profiling or any kind of racial discrimination, you open up an internal investigation right away,” he affirmed.

While Lawson has yet to meet with the Black Student Union, he hopes to speak with them and every student organization at Harper.

As of mid-March, Lawson has attended virtual meetings with three Harper organizations, including the IDEA Circle – a monthly panel for Harper’s diverse and cultural student clubs to share their experiences.

There, he learned of troubling incidents involving Harper Police’s interactions with students with autism.

While Lawson has undergone autism training, he learned that none of his subordinates had since it is not mandated by the state.

“I’ve had incidents where I’ve dealt with people high up on the spectrum. If I didn’t have the training, it could have ended differently,”  Lawson admitted.

Recognizing the importance, he is planning on holding an autism training day for Harper’s officers and local police departments on May 26th.

Additionally, Lawson plans on starting a program at Harper similar to a ride-along.

Student club members will be able to sign-up and spend four hours with a campus officer, including bringing them to a club meeting. 

While many of his plans will have to wait until campus reopens, Lawson will continue to meet with clubs virtually throughout the spring semester and lay the groundwork for his tenure at Harper.

“I want to be visible and approachable,”  Lawson asserted. “I want to be an engaged leader, not sitting in my office behind a desk.”