To an outsider, working at the Harvard University Police Department is a dream job. Joining the force offers generous benefits, flexible hours, a vibrant work environment, and the opportunity to represent a prestigious institution.
When former Harvard police officer George F. Pierce took a job at the department in 2002, he believed that dream. Born and raised in Cambridge, he said he was proud to enter Harvard’s gates.
Two decades later, Pierce no longer believes serving as a HUPD officer is the perfect assignment. Earlier this month, he retired at 62 years old.
In 2011, Pierce filed a since-settled civil lawsuit against Harvard and the chief of its police department, Francis D. “Bud” Riley, alleging HUPD leadership discriminated against him because he is black. He also filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2008, 2009, and 2012.
In both the MCAD filings and the suit, Pierce alleged the department denied him promotions and scrutinized his actions because of his race. He also claimed the department retaliated against him for having filed them.
Harvard denied Pierce’s allegations and the parties settled. But he is far from the only HUPD officer to bring complaints against the department.
An investigation by The Crimson found repeated instances of racism and sexism in Harvard’s police department spanning the past 28 years. In MCAD filings, lawsuits, internal documents, meetings with prominent Harvard administrators, and interviews, 21 current and former HUPD employees alleged the department’s leaders have disciplined officers differently because of their race, gender, or personal relationships with the department’s top authority figures. They also identified Riley as the source of what they called a toxic culture in the department.
HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano declined to comment on the specific allegations in this article on behalf of the department and Riley.
“It is the longstanding policy of the Harvard University Police Department not to comment on staffing, equipment, personnel matters, or security measures,” he wrote in an email.
Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain also declined to comment, writing in an email that the University does not comment on individual personnel matters.
Riley has headed the department since 1996, making him a significantly longer-serving chief than his past two predecessors. Prior to joining HUPD, he worked as a lieutenant colonel for the Massachusetts State Police.
During his quarter-century at Harvard, Riley has burnished his reputation at the University, transitioning the department to a “community policing” model and steering it through scandals. Officers compared the chief to a politician, citing his intelligence and charm — characteristics that have enabled him to cultivate strong relationships across the University.
But while Harvard affiliates see HUPD officers frequenting campus dining halls and helping freshmen move into their dorms, incidents involving female officers and officers of color divide Riley’s force.
Officers interviewed for this article described Riley’s department as an “old boys’ network.” They alleged he rewards members of his inner circle while passing over officers who voice concerns.
For officers distant from the chief, opportunities for upward mobility in the department are slim. Some of those officers have left the department; others have stayed reluctantly, afraid to start their careers anew.
Those officers said their employment at HUPD comes with a professional and emotional cost, and that they believe morale inside the department has never been lower.
Aside from Pierce, three other officers have filed lawsuits over the past two decades against Riley and Harvard alleging discrimination. Five officers have filed complaints against Riley and the University with MCAD. All of these officers agreed to confidential settlements with Harvard.
Still others alleged Riley has discriminated against them, too, but said they were reluctant to litigate their grievances because they thought they could not afford to face Harvard in court.
Current and former members of the department shared their experiences working as Harvard police officers with The Crimson under the condition of anonymity because they said they feared retaliation from Riley. Retired officers said the same, adding that they are trying to put their time at Harvard behind them.
Last September, HUPD suspended Josiah Christian, a black officer, for one week without pay after he and a white officer named Thomas F. Karns had a physical altercation. The two fought after Karns allegedly used homophobic and racist slurs, calling Christian a “f----t n----r.” The altercation occurred roughly four years ago in HUPD’s parking lot, but was only brought to department leaders last year. Catalano declined to comment on Karns’s behalf.
Officers said Karns’s comments were only the most recent of several racist remarks and incidents in the department — some of which involved prominent HUPD officials.
Roughly two years ago, a white officer named Stephen T. O’Connor called a black officer a “monkey.” O’Connor chose to resign following the incident after the department gave him the choice to do so or face termination.
O’Connor declined to comment on the situation, deferring to Harvard University Police Association president Michael J. Allen, who declined to comment for this article.
Roughly five years ago, a white officer named Thomas J. Hoey showed black officers a photo of himself in blackface taken at Halloween earlier that year. According to officers familiar with the situation, the department suspended Hoey for several days in response — a punishment some officers viewed as light compared to Christian’s recent suspension.
Catalano said the department investigates all violations of HUPD policy once it becomes aware of them. A report is then presented to the chief, who decides the specific terms of discipline on a case-by-case basis.
Pierce also alleged in his 2011 lawsuit that officers in the department made explicitly racist remarks.
“Supervisory officers in the Department have routinely made openly racial remarks, including complaining that ‘n-----s’ had ‘taken over’ baseball and basketball, in the context of questioning why the Department ‘had’ to hire more ‘n-----s’; making statements such as ‘I hate blacks’ and comments about ‘ch-nk’ food; and referring to a Latino officer as a ‘sp-c’,” the complaint reads.
Harvard and Riley’s lawyers contested Pierce’s allegations, arguing that any claims made based on these facts were “time-barred as a matter of law,” according to the defendants’ answer to Pierce’s second complaint.
The defense admitted that an officer addressed another officer as a “sp-c,” but disputed the remark’s context.
“Further answering, the allegation regarding the use of the word “sp-c” is taken out of context, as it was used in a manner than was intended to be sarcastic rather than offensive, although the employee that used the word was nevertheless appropriately counseled,” the document reads.
In his suit, Pierce described HUPD as having “created and maintained a pervasive racially-biased environment within the Department, supported by management, including top management.”
People of color comprise roughly twenty-six percent of the department’s patrol officers and detectives, according to Catalano. They comprise only nine percent of the department’s sworn leadership, according to data from HUPD’s online directory.
Some officers of color said they feel alienated as a result of the disparity. They also said they believe officers who used racial slurs faced insufficient discipline.
Still, HUPD has taken steps to promote diversity and inclusion under Riley, according to Catalano and Title IX Coordinator for Harvard Human Resources and HUPD Maria Mejia.
“The Harvard University Police Department is committed to hiring and maintaining a diverse workforce, both civilians and sworn, and is constantly looking to hire the most qualified, diverse workforce available,” Catalano said.
Mejia said HUPD began a new recruitment process to increase the representation of racial minorities and women in the department during Riley’s tenure. These efforts, she said, include targeting recruitment efforts toward minorities and interviewing all minority applicants who meet minimum qualifications.
A 2009 report that assessed HUPD’s interactions with Harvard affiliates also argued the department had made progress recruiting minority officers.
“HUPD has increased the percentage of minorities in HUPD from 10% in 1998 to 19% in 2008,” the report reads.
The department has also mandated that officers attend diversity training, but several officers said they felt the training was ineffective and that the department’s leadership did not take it seriously.
In his 2008 MCAD charge, his second amended complaint in his lawsuit, and an interview, Pierce recalled a remark deputy chief Kevin Regan made during a department diversity training program. Pierce said Regan criticized a black state trooper for filing a race-based discrimination complaint, rather than, in Regan’s words, “settling this like a man.”
Harvard and Riley denied Pierce’s allegation, according to their answer to his complaint.
In 2008, Riley created a new position in the department, called the diversity and community liaison officer, in an effort to improve the department’s relationship with Harvard affiliates. Riley appointed sergeant Kevin P. Bryant — the only black officer currently in the department’s leadership — to fill the post.
Since Riley became chief 24 years ago, only four women have been promoted to leadership positions in the department. Nineteen percent of HUPD officers and detectives are female, according to Catalano. Women are less represented among sworn leadership, which boasts just one female officer.
Several female officers have said they faced discrimination while on the job at HUPD.
They said leadership passes them over for promotions because of their gender and holds them to higher standards than their male counterparts.
At least five female officers have brought concerns about gender discrimination to University officials and police union leaders, filed complaints with MCAD, or sued Harvard over the past three decades.
In 1992, four years before Riley became chief, then-HUPD sergeant Kathleen Stanford filed a complaint with MCAD alleging that the department discriminated against her on the basis of gender by denying her promotions and paying her less than male officers who shared her rank. The commission found probable cause to credit her allegations, and the University and Stanford agreed to settle the complaint, after which she withdrew it.
In 1999, Stanford filed a lawsuit against Riley and Harvard. Stanford alleged that Riley discriminated against her on the basis of gender and retaliated against her for speaking out about perceived mistreatment, though some allegations in her suit predated Riley’s arrival.
Separately, she filed an affidavit with the Cambridge Human Rights Commission.
Stanford wrote in the affidavit and the suit that Riley harassed her by personally making disparaging and sexist remarks about her and unfairly scrutinizing her work.
“Since Chief Riley was hired in January 1996, he has subjected me to an ongoing campaign of harassment to which male co-workers have not been subjected,” Stanford wrote in the affidavit.
She alleged the harassment included “derogatory, disparaging, or demeaning comments about women in front of [her] and other female employees of HUPD; frequent unfounded accusations, frequently made in an extremely hostile and physically threatening manner, that [Stanford] had violated HUPD policy; and frequent comments wrongly implying that [she] was an unproductive employee and questioning [her] competence and professionalism.”
Affidavits submitted to the Human Rights Commission by five HUPD employees on Stanford’s behalf described the department as hostile toward women. The officers testified to Stanford’s superior qualifications compared to men who received promotions and wrote about the intense scrutiny she faced from Riley. They wrote that the department disciplined Stanford for small infractions that typically went unnoticed by the department when committed by other officers. In three affidavits submitted by female employees, they shared personal anecdotes of sexism allegedly perpetrated by Riley.
Riley and the University’s lawyers both denied in court that he had subjected Stanford to gender-based discrimination and retaliation, according to the defendants’ answers to her lawsuit. The defense also denied Stanford’s allegations that Riley harassed her, specifically that Riley made demeaning and threatening comments to her and that he frequently questioned her professional ability.
Stanford eventually reached a confidential settlement with the University. She was not the last female officer to allege gender discrimination in the department.
On Jan. 8 of this year, HUPD terminated female officer Corina F. Maher, who had sustained an ear injury resulting from sergeant Charles P. Hanson’s negligent firing of his weapon next to her at a HUPD gun range.
On August 13, 2018, Hanson, who is also a range instructor, violated department safety protocols while training Maher. An internally available incident report written by Maher and obtained by The Crimson states that Hanson negligently fired a live round of ammunition using his real gun in a simulation room where officers are only allowed to use imitation weapons.
Hanson fired his gun while standing adjacent to Maher, who was not wearing safety equipment because live weapons are forbidden per range safety procedures. With no protective gear to shield her, Maher sustained an ear injury that ultimately rendered her unable to work, according to four officers familiar with the situation.
Charles Chalmers, another officer present at the range, told Maher she could leave the scene shortly after the incident, according to the incident report, a detailed account of an event written from the perspective of an officer present and available to all officers in the department.
“Officer Chalmers told me a call was placed by Sergeant Hanson to Deputy Regan and I was informed I could leave and go home,” Maher wrote in the report.
Several officers familiar with the situation said they believed the department did not adequately investigate the negligent firing. Specifically, they called it highly unusual that Maher went home before receiving a medical evaluation or writing an incident report.
In the report, Maher alleged that Chalmers later pressured her to stay quiet about the incident. He “advised not telling anyone about it as it would likely be a cause for gossip/embarrassment,” she wrote.
Maher wrote that she did not discuss the incident for eight months, hoping her symptoms would subside. She continued to experience medical issues over the ensuing months, however. On April 30, 2019, Maher confided in HUPD sergeant Jacobo Negron, who told her to write the report detailing the range incident and its effects on her, according to an incident report Negron wrote.
Officers said they believed the department’s leadership attempted to quiet discussions of the incident partially to protect Hanson. They said Hanson is a member of the chief’s inner circle and also belongs to the same law enforcement motorcycle club, Road Dawgs, as Regan.
Officers familiar with the gun range incident also charged that the department did not thoroughly investigate the incident because Maher is a woman.
When Harvard fired Maher, several officers said the University invoked its right to terminate an employee who has been out on medical leave for at least six months. Five officers said that in recent years, the department did not terminate several male officers who had been out on medical leave for longer than six months.
Mejia said the University’s central human resources office, not the department, makes ultimate decisions regarding whether to enforce the six-month guideline. She said Harvard determines whether or not to invoke the policy on a case-by-case basis.
“[It] depends on a gamut of issues, including staffing and operational needs at the time or uncertainty of return to work,” she said.
To some female officers, Maher’s last months in the department are evidence of HUPD leadership’s broader disregard for female officers’ concerns.
Asked to describe female officers’ experiences at HUPD, one female officer compared her time at the department to being in an abusive relationship.
“No matter what we do, we have to keep taking it, and keep taking it, and keep taking it, because at the end of the day, we need to pay the bills,” she said.
“I often feel that we are at HUPD just so they can check the Equal Opportunity box. I feel that we are not recognized for our daily contribution and our ability to do the job.”
Officers interviewed for this story said incidents of discrimination at HUPD rarely happen in a vacuum — they alleged that the department’s broader culture under Riley has enabled discriminatory behavior to persist. Riley maintains a system of promoting and rewarding officers who he deems trustworthy, they said, and shuns HUPD employees who raise concerns about racism and sexism.
In his early years as chief, Riley enacted a series of changes in the department. Officers critical of those changes alleged that they enabled Riley to consolidate power and hire a staff that would be primarily loyal to him.
He axed the lieutenant position — held by six veteran officers — on May 5, 1999 and dismissed them, according to two suits filed by former lieutenants against Riley and Harvard. Riley also hired officers with connections to the state police, his former workplace. Riley also discontinued standardized tests previously used in the department’s promotion process.
Current and former officers alleged that Riley’s changes allowed him to wield greater control over hiring decisions.
“Chief Riley’s failure to consider the exam scores for the promotions to lieutenant allowed him to make a biased discriminatory decision on the promotions,” Stanford’s 1999 complaint states. The department denied Stanford’s allegation.
Catalano disagreed with officers’ characterization of the change. He said Riley altered the process to include greater feedback, including an interview component conducted by Harvard faculty or resident deans.
Two of the lieutenants that Riley fired in 1999, John F. Rooney and Edward Sheridan, seperately sued Riley and Harvard in 2001 for employment discrimination. In their suits, they alleged that the chief retaliated against them for providing affidavits on behalf of Stanford, who was their colleague.
Both plaintiffs reached confidential settlements with the University.
In a Wednesday interview, Riley said his decision to eliminate the lieutenant position was unrelated to loyalty.
Riley said that he arrived at HUPD to find a rift between the police force and Harvard students, faculty, and staff. He transitioned HUPD into a community policing law enforcement agency in order to heal that rift, he said. Members of the department who resisted this change, he alleged, included some officers who held the rank of lieutenant.
When Riley joined the department as chief, he brought in Regan, a fellow former state trooper, as his deputy chief. Many officers described Regan as Riley’s right-hand man and said he is prone to loud outbursts that frequently intimidate dissenting officers.
Officers said building a rapport with Regan pays dividends in the department. They called people who benefit from these perks “Friends of Kevin” or F.O.K.
One former officer, who said he was a mutual friend of Regan, told The Crimson that in 2007, Regan fed him the questions and answers to an interview with members of the department ahead of time to help him secure a job at HUPD. The former officer said that he had no previous experience in law enforcement before he arrived at Harvard.
Catalano declined to comment on the former officer’s allegation, citing department policy.
Other officers complained that Riley and other department leaders dispense benefits to favored officers.
Several officers said Riley grants favored deputies the privilege of using “take-home” cars, which come with Harvard-funded gas cards and insurance.
Four officers confirmed that the department has roughly 20 take-home vehicles. By comparison, MIT Police has just one and Northeastern University Police Department has two. Under the previous HUPD chief, the department had fewer than five take-home cars, according to officers familiar with the situation.
Officers said several HUPD employees use take-home cars primarily because of their relationship with the chief.
In the past, the department’s alleged misuse of take home vehicles has been the subject of public controversy. The Crimson reported in 2009 that Harvard auditors launched an investigation into alleged vehicle misuse in the department.
University employees said at the time that Riley inappropriately used his car for a weekend trip to Vermont, paying for gas using a Harvard-issued card, according to the article.
Regan took his HUPD vehicle on a personal trip to a motorcycle rally in South Dakota in 2007 and used his Harvard-issued card to pay for gas, according to officers familiar with the situation and a photograph from the trip.
Despite some officers’ criticisms, one former sergeant said he understands the changes Riley made in the department.
He said he believes Riley favored hiring state troopers because he trusted them. And he alleged that Riley disciplined dissenting officer, not out of retaliation, but because they frequently failed to execute orders.
While Pierce was still with the department, he said he felt demoralized working under Riley’s system of hirings, promotions, and firings.
“I'm not going to apply for anything ever again, because I know I'm not gonna get it. So I'm fine doing what I'm doing. Come to work, do my overtime, and go home and spend it with my family, which is the most important thing to me,” he said. “It sets a bad taste in your mouth.”
The department’s problems under Riley — whether they are related to favoritism, race, or gender — have not gone unnoticed by Harvard’s administration.
The University has commissioned three reviews of HUPD during Riley’s tenure. In 1999, George L. Kelling, a criminologist and research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, examined the department and detailed his findings in a 51-page review. In 2008, Harvard Director of Human Resources Ann Dexter wrote a report about the department, and one year later former Suffolk County district attorney Ralph C. Martin II investigated HUPD’s policing of Harvard’s campus at the request of former University President Drew G. Faust.
In his report, entitled “The Harvard University Police Department: A Strategic Analysis,” Kelling wrote about employees’ criticisms of Riley.
“Chief Riley Is Turning the HUPD into a State Police Annex” one bullet point in the report read. Kelling also mentioned that officers felt disillusioned by the chief’s alleged showing of favoritism.
Kelling went on to dismiss the latter criticism, writing in the report that divisions in the department predated Riley. He added that he believed Riley had to make significant changes to HUPD to achieve his vision, and that officers’ dissatisfaction with the chief stemmed from their reluctance to change.
Though Kelling disputed some officers’ allegations, he mentioned significant conflicts between officers and Riley.
“It is no secret that HUPD has troubles: morale is bad for some in the department and conflict exists between the chief and some mid-managers,” Kelling wrote. “[Riley] is a bit of a character.”
Many HUPD employees interviewed said administrators outside of the department have long been aware of officers’ concerns about Riley but have failed to take adequate action.
On several occasions, officers have brought their concerns directly to top Harvard officials.
Last fall, Pierce said he met with Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay and told her about racist incidents in the department and its lack of diversity. He also met with Senior Advisor to the President John S. Wilson to discuss diversity in the department, according to emails obtained by The Crimson.
Wilson also met with Riley and Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp regarding “climate issues” at HUPD, according to an email.
Several officers said that they have met with ombudsman Lydia L. Cummings to tell her about their grievances with the department.
Lapp wrote in an emailed response to HUPD officers’ allegations that she believes the department and Riley play a vital role on campus.
“The public safety role of the HUPD is fundamental to ensuring Harvard is a place where every member of our community can do their best and be their best, and it’s a role I know every HUPD officer takes seriously,” she wrote. “Chief Riley’s continued leadership in community policing and engagement, along with diversity in recruiting and investment in the professionalism of the department, reflects his belief that his organization, like any organization, can do better and he is committed to doing just that.”
After more than two decades of meetings, lawsuits, and University reports, however, officers said they are skeptical that the situation in the department will ever improve.
Pierce said the discrimination he says he faced at HUPD marred a career he otherwise loved.
“You didn't know if you were going to be held accountable for something, judged, scrutinized on reports, or scrutinized on your interaction with the community,” he said. “I pride myself on being a positive role model for the community. A compassionate person with the students, the staff, faculty, citizens, the public. I prided myself on that. And I don't think you get much recognition.”
—Associate Managing Editor Alexandra A. Chaidez and staff writer Ruoqi Zhang contributed reporting.
—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emaschumer.