For Kevin Hayden, the newly appointed Suffolk district attorney, the feeling in the air is of homecoming.
“This is home for me,” Hayden said this week as he settled into his office. “I’ve been a public servant all my life. My heart never strayed far from here, really. I live in Boston, I worship in Boston. The opportunity to come back here and lead this agency in the crucially important mission to keep Suffolk County safe is just an honor and a privilege.”
Hayden, 53, is a veteran of the office, having served as an assistant district attorney from 1997 to 2008. He was heading the state’s Sex Offender Registry Board when he was tapped by Governor Charlie Baker to fill the unexpired term or Rachael Rollins, who left to become US attorney for Massachusetts.
He takes over at a pivotal time. Unlike many major cities, which have seen sharp increases in crime during the pandemic, Boston has experienced the opposite. Which is not say there isn’t a great deal to be done, as the work of bringing more justice to the justice system has rarely been more at center stage.
It is also, as it happens, a remarkable time of transition across local law enforcement. The US attorney is new, the district attorney is new, and the top position in the Boston Police Department is open, with a search committee newly appointed.
But while Hayden may be new to his current role, he comes with deep roots in both the office and the community.
He spent 11 years in the office, working under DAs Ralph Martin and Dan Conley. Much of his time there was devoted to strengthening ties between the DA’s office and the neighborhoods in which it was most active, forging connections that should serve him well now. He is a deacon at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan, another strong community connection.
Hayden grew up in Newton and Roxbury — straddling two worlds, as he likes to say. After his parents divorced when he was 10, his mother stayed in Newton while his father moved to Dudley (now Nubian) Square. He credits spending time in both places with shaping his perspective on the city. Hayden says his father urged him to ignore stereotypical views of the people around him, in media and elsewhere.
“Maybe he was overemphasizing here, but he said, ‘99.9 percent of the people that live in our community are working hard, trying to make a way and trying to do the right thing. Never forget that.’ I never did,” Hayden said.
Part of Hayden’s challenge in the job will be continuing to modernize the way prosecutors view their role. Progressive prosecutors like Rollins have fundamentally altered what the public wants in the role.
Specifically, there is a far greater emphasis on equity, on police accountability, and on reducing over-enforcement for relatively minor offenses.
Hayden said he embraces, in broad terms, more progressive ways of approaching prosecution.
“All of these things are not political ideas,” Hayden said. “They’re not ideals that one party holds. They’re all great ideas. They’re all the right ideas.
“That’s not the hard discussion. The hard discussion is how do we implement it.”
Hayden said he attributes Boston’s current success in keeping crime down to a couple of factors. He said the government has successfully made a priority of helping offenders who have been released reenter society, making them less likely to commit other crimes. Building on that work, he said, will be key to further success.
“I think the governor and our entire government have done a great job of providing the services people need in this pandemic,” Hayden said. “So people have been less apt to turn to less desirable parts of their nature, so to speak.”
The next DA will be elected later this year. Hayden would not say whether he is running. But if he does, his candidacy will be guided by the forces that have brought him this far.
“Let’s say I do run to be the next DA,” Hayden said. “I won’t be running to be the next Black DA. I’ll be running to be the next best DA. And that’s shaped by the two worlds that I’ve lived in.”