As he begins his tenure as chief of the Harvard University Police Department, Victor A. “Vic” Clay said in his first interview with The Crimson Tuesday that he intends to diversify Harvard’s police force and increase communication between the department and the Harvard affiliates it serves.
The interview with The Crimson took place following a monthly breakfast hosted by Harvard Men’s Basketball coach Tommy Amaker at Henrietta’s Table, which is located in Harvard Square’s Charles Hotel.
Clay took over as the head of HUPD in July 2021 after the University launched a nationwide search to replace former HUPD Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley, who led the department for more than two decades. Riley announced his retirement at the apex of nationwide protests against police violence in June 2020 and on the heels of intense campus scrutiny of HUPD, triggered by a 2020 Crimson investigation that found instances of racism and sexism within the force.
As of last year, nearly one third of students supported proposals to abolish or defund HUPD, according to a fall 2020 survey by The Crimson. Since then, campus groups like the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops have called for the abolition of the department.
Clay is set to confront a skeptical student body as he assumes his new role.
Clay arrived at Harvard this summer after serving nearly three decades in public and private law enforcement in Los Angeles. Before joining HUPD, Clay served as the chief of campus security and parking services at the California Institute of Technology, a position he had held since 2017. Before that, he was chief of campus safety at Occidental College in Los Angeles and spent 28 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Clay, who is Black, stressed in Tuesday’s interview that HUPD exists to serve Harvard, and that the University’s police force should be reflective of the campus it protects.
“I want our department to look like the community. I want it to be fair,” Clay said. “The community we serve needs a better police officer out there.”
Clay said he believes police departments should hire diverse officers, including women and people of color.
Clay also said he will prioritize increasing transparency inside the department. His goal dovetails with recommendations made in the final report of a 2020 external review into HUPD launched by University President Lawrence S. Bacow to evaluate Harvard’s policing procedures.
“The day of the cop saying ‘no comment’ is over,” Clay said. “Something happens and we do something, you got to stand up and say what happened, truthfully.”
Clay said the biggest challenge he foresees in his job is proving to Harvard affiliates that HUPD is not the same as other police departments across the country.
“I can’t control what goes on in other police departments or law enforcement agencies around the nation or even the world,” he said. “If we can understand each other on that human level first and understand this is a job, just like anybody else who’s employed, and that I don’t live and breathe this law enforcement thing — we can be wrong — and that some of us need to be fired and put in jail just like regular folks, I think we’d have a better relationship.”
—Staff writer Raquel Coronell Uribe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raquelco15.