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Harvard Police Chief Discusses New Union Contract, Department Reform Efforts

The Harvard University Police Department's headquarters are located on Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge.
The Harvard University Police Department's headquarters are located on Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sarah Girma and Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard University and its police officers’ union agreed to a new contract after nearly two years of negotiations, police chief Victor A. Clay said in an interview Tuesday.

The previous contract expired in November 2020, and the new deal marks the first collective bargaining agreement for officers under Clay’s tenure. In April, the Harvard University Police Association and the University began meeting with a federal mediator to discuss contract negotiations.

HUPA President Michael A. Arsenault wrote in a statement that the HUPA ratified the contract during a meeting in June following 18 months of negotiation with the University.

Clay said in the interview that he felt officers’ spirits had improved in light of the new contract.

“Morale has gone up since the signing,” Clay said. “They received what I think is a fair contract.”

HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay.
HUPD Chief Victor A. Clay. By Courtesy of Curtis Dahl

Clay also discussed delays to his plans for reform in the department, though he touted new hiring initiatives and advancement opportunities within HUPD.

During Clay’s first year as chief, the department saw a series of changes in its leadership, including the promotion of four captains and a reshuffled “command staff.” Clay said in the interview that his focus has been creating an “effective leadership team.”

Clay’s appointment to lead HUPD came just over a year after an investigation by The Crimson detailing a culture of racism and sexism under then-Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley rocked the department.

Riley stepped down at the end of 2020, though some members of his leadership team remained early into Clay’s tenure, including longtime second-in-command Kevin W. Regan, who left the department in February.

Clay said HUPD is undergoing a “change process,” adding that he hopes to move on from the department’s past and heal its scars.

“My intent is to be better, not to be punitive,” Clay said. “I’ve been here for 17 months, and it’s time for us to move forward.”

Clay said the department continued recruitment efforts and staff changes in recent months, including promoting three lieutenants and launching a process to recruit new sergeants.

“I want to be the best. I expect my officers to be the best. I expect us to deliver the best service to our community,” Clay said.

Clay said he is “torn” on whether to implement body cameras for officers, citing concerns about their impact on student privacy.

“I haven’t really even brought it up with anyone, because we go into residential spaces,” Clay said. “I'm afraid that it would be more intrusive than it would be helpful.”

Clay said he does not oppose the use of body cameras, saying they “worked well in the field” earlier in his career, but he said he would like to hear from Harvard affiliates before deciding to use them on campus.

In an interview in May, Clay said he planned to establish five new unarmed Campus Support Officer positions by fall 2022. Since then, the proposal has been delayed by administrative processes, Clay said, with his proposed job description for the role currently under review by Harvard Human Resources.

“Although the wheels of justice spin slowly, the wheels of bureaucracy are even slower,” Clay said. “We’re going to work through it and try to get it rolling in the spring.”

Clay said a planned update to HUPD’s workload and crime dashboard — a proposal shaped by the department’s advisory board — has also taken longer than expected while the department has been “beta testing” it, though he hopes to release the information this spring.

“There’s Harvard time, right?” Clay said. “We showed the dashboard or a preliminary view to the advisory board, and we’re getting input to make sure that the information is relevant.”

The dashboard debuted in June 2021, revealing that HUPD had arrested Black people at a disproportionate rate across the prior three years. The dashboard stemmed from a recommendation put forth by a 2020 external review into the department.

In August, the department hired its newest employee — Sasha, a black labrador retriever who serves as HUPD’s Community Engagement Dog. Handled by HUPD officer Steve Fumicello, Sasha’s role is to comfort and support students, faculty, and staff at Harvard.

Sasha graduated from Puppies Behind Bars, a program that trains incarcerated people to raise dogs for war veterans, first responders, and police departments.

“I'm a dog lover, so I'm all for it,” Clay said. “When Steve brought that program to me, I thought, ‘Outstanding, let's do it.’”

Clay said he plans to continue evaluating the department and making improvements where needed.

“I'm not going to stop moving forward. I'm not going to stop assessing. I'm not going to stop making sure that our processes are the best,” Clay said.

—Staff writer Sarah Girma can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @SarahGirma_.

—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.

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