GAZETTE: You’ve made some substantial changes with regard to how the security departments at both Occidental and Caltech interact with students. Tell us about some of these changes.
CLAY: While at Occidental, we were challenged by student-led groups to be more transparent and to answer their questions about policing, specifically the militarization of police/security on campus, and rightfully so. It was contentious at first, and several conversations were quite heated at times. But, the students and some faculty had every right to demand a specific type and level of “policing” on campus. We served them, so we needed to make adjustments. That said, I did require that the safety of my staff must also be considered in any adjustments to our activities — we can always discuss and meet somewhere in the middle.
We also established a Chief’s Advisory Committee, and we held town hall meetings to discuss these issues, and others. I thought it went well. Speaking to the students essentially gave me a roadmap to success. I knew what they wanted; I knew what we could deliver; and we made changes accordingly. Plus, we were able to show our commitment to changing the culture of the department and to increasing the service that we provided.
Some of the immediate changes we made at Occidental were: including students in security planning, changing our uniforms to polo shirts and cargo-pocket-style patrol pants, and adjusting our patrol methods to one of guardianship versus rigid “letter of the law” enforcement. We partnered with student affairs and asked that they take a lead role in enforcing conduct violations, while we focused on crimes and investigations.
At Caltech, I did essentially the same things. The department appearance changed with new uniforms, our patrol cars received a makeover to match the logos and insignia of Caltech, and we met with student leaders to address their specific concerns. We included students in some of our training, and we joined them in some of their trainings and activities. We also included event organizers and student affairs leadership in the planning phase prior to events on campus, and we asked them to take the lead on conduct-related issues.
Working together is always better, as it increases communication and improves relationships, both of which are incredibly important, especially during these difficult times. I hope to recreate that level of communication and community at Harvard. I know there is a recently established HUPD Advisory Committee, and I plan to be a very active and responsive member of that group.
GAZETTE: Let me ask about an important concern of our community, which is becoming more and more diverse. Tell us about your commitment to a more inclusive police department, one that takes into account the reality that many of our community members have had very different experiences with the police in their individual pasts.
CLAY: I’m going to return to what I said about living in the community.
If the police department does not mirror the community in terms of diversity, it should at least be giving it a try. And that’s not about affirmative action or putting somebody in as a token, to be very candid with you.
If the diversity of your department reflects the diversity of the community, you’ll have a department with a better understanding of diverse cultures, which is so important in understanding how to best keep people safe.
I’ve seen the benefit of a diverse department, personally, in my own life. It’s great to see women coming in, in greater numbers. My sister worked with me on the Sheriff’s Department and became this impressive lieutenant working in internal affairs, who retired after 32 years. And you know, as an African American, every time I’m approached by a cop, it affects me. It’s a real thing to feel uncomfortable because I can’t trust that they understand my culture, and that they don’t profile or prejudge me. We need to have a department that is attuned to these concerns, and better understands various points of view on past experiences with the police, good and bad.
GAZETTE: You start officially at Harvard this coming summer. Do you have a sense as to what you plan to do when you arrive on campus?
CLAY: I’ve already had the opportunity to talk to (interim HUPD chief) Denis Downing and I said, “You know, I’m the new guy. I need to learn how to patrol. I need to learn your language, your radio codes, your actual laws. I want to go through the various steps that your newest officer goes through.”
I also want to take the time to talk and meet with people and not just people with power or title, but just folks. I think that’s hugely important. I need to learn what I’m doing, what the environment is, who the people are, what are the strengths and opportunities, then take my time, and begin to make some solid decisions.
GAZETTE: How are you feeling about coming to the northeast after all these years in sunny California?
CLAY: I met my wife when we were 12 years old. We’ve known each other our entire lives. And when I was flirting with her back in high school and telling her that you’re going to be Mrs. Clay one day, we used to talk about moving to the East Coast and traveling and going to different places. I know it’s a couple of decades late now, but we’re seeing this as an adventure and very much looking forward to it.
Interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.