Out of the Running

Harvard police Chief Paul E. Johnson is expected to step down later this year, leaving several top officers in the department vying for the job of the University's top law enforcement officer. For Acting Chief Lawrence J. Murphy, however, the ra

The race to be the next chief of the Harvard Police Department has barely begun. And already, it seems, there has been a casualty.

Police Lt. Lawrence J. Murphy, the acting chief, was considered the leading internal candidate to replace Chief Paul E. Johnson, who is expected to retire at the end of the year. But recent disclosures about his connections to a local bus company have cost him the respect of many Harvard officers.

And if Vice President and General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall, who did not return phone calls this week, weighs the feelings of police officers in picking the next chief, Murphy is already an also-ran.

During an investigation of Harvard's reunions by The Crimson last spring, Murphy said he had no personal or financial connection to Cavalier Coach Corporation, a Medford-based firm which provides the vast majority of the busing services for Harvard's Commencement and reunions.

But recent revelations cast doubt on Murphy's statement. By his own admission, the lieutenant is authorized to sign employee paychecks, and he holds an American Express corporate card with the company. The lieutenant says he holds check authorization power "in case anything happens to Joan Libby," Cavalier's president and owner. The credit card is for "personal reasons," Murphy says.

Murphy says he decides what bus companies to employ for the reunions. Cavalier has held the reunion contract for all six years of its existence, and the bus contract is never put up for bid. Harvard's business is worth more than $100,000 to Cavalier, according to a source.

Murphy also has a close personal relationship with Joan Libby, the president and owner of Cavalier. Murphy says he spends many week nights at Libby's home, and the two traveled together to Miami in January. While there, they attended the United Bus Owners of America's annual convention as representatives of Cavalier.

Murphy and Marshall, his boss, have said they don't believe this is a conflict of interest. They say Murphy has made no financial gain from Cavalier. But officers disagree, strongly.

"Why, if he has no financial gain," asks one officer, "is it necessary for him to have a corporate credit card?"

Murphy, a former Cambridge court officer, has long had trouble getting along with department officers. One senior police official says he believes Murphy would be a great chief "if he had any personnel skills whatsoever."

A decade ago, the police task force, an elite group of plainclothed officers, staged a minirevolt under his supervision, officers say.

Perhaps the biggest public embarassment for Murphy, however, was the special detail he ran to protect Saudi Prince Turki bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud during His Highness' three-month stay on the top two floors of the Charles Hotel.

The police detail was paid approximately $27,000 a week to guard the prince, according to a Crimson estimate at the time. And two department sources said then that the police department's criminal investigation division, which was then directed by Murphy, was depleted by the commitment required for the detail. Several members of the investigation unit were part of the detail.

Murphy, who the prince reportedly referred to as "Uncle Larry," took vacation time to help work on the lucrative detail. Sources say Murphy received a "substantial gift" from the prince at the end of his stay.

Officers speaking on condition of anonymity say Murphy put his personal interests in the matter ahead of what was best for the police department then. Some wonder if the same thing isn't happening now.

The timing of the most recent disclosures could not be worse for Murphy. With the chief sweepstakes coming soon, there is almost constant political warfare inside the department. Murphy's few allies have already accused Lt. John F. Rooney, another potential contender for the chief's job, of leaking word of Murphy's Cavalier connections to The Crimson.

In addition, Harvard's patrol officers have reached a stalemate in tense negotiations with the University over a new contract. That means the officers Murphy supervises haven't had a raise in more than a year. And that, it seems, has made them extremely resentful of the perks Murphy enjoys from Cavalier.