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‘A profound opportunity’: Providence Police chief to lead Justice Department’s community policing office

Hugh T. Clements Jr. will lead the COPS Office after 37 years with the Providence Police Department, where he worked in units throughout the department and spent the last 11 years as its chief.

Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements is the department’s second-longest serving chief since it was established in 1864.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. has been appointed to serve as the new director of the national Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

The appointment to lead the office, known as COPS, was announced Thursday by US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

Garland said in a statement that the office is central to the Justice Department’s efforts “to strengthen the public trust between communities and law enforcement that is essential to public safety.”

The COPS Office is the component of the Justice Department responsible for advancing the practice of community policing by the nation’s state, local, territorial, and Tribal law enforcement agencies through information and grant resources.


“I am confident that Chief Clements’s leadership will further enable the COPS Office to continue its important work to keep our communities safe and build trust and mutual respect between police and communities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Garland said in a statement.

“It’s an awesome responsibility and an opportunity to make a huge impact on the profession in a global way,” Clements told the Globe after the announcement.

Next week is his last week as Providence police chief. Clements said he will start the new job on Jan. 30. “It is a profound opportunity,” he said.

Under Clements and his predecessor, Chief Dean M. Esserman, the Providence Police Department itself had gained a regional and national reputation for leadership in innovative policing strategies.

Twenty years ago, the department underwent a massive restructuring by employing community policing strategies throughout the ranks. It led Rhode Island and much of New England in adopting body-worn cameras for all officers, forged partnerships with community groups and mental health agencies, changed its approach on responding to people with mental illnesses, and became a teaching department for other agencies.

And, Clements, who’d been well-respected among rank-and-file officers and throughout the community, caught the attention of Washington, DC.


Clements said he’d been contacted about the position last year and went through rounds of interviews with the Justice Department, the national Domestic Policy Council, and the Office of Presidential Personnel. As they discussed the work of the COPS Office and crime enforcement and engagement, Clements said, he was able to describe how that kind of work had been applied in Providence.

“We’ve always been open to special projects and the think-tank initiatives,” Clements said. “I’ve not only done it, but along the way, we had proven results and proven success.”

Clements will lead the COPS Office after 37 years with the Providence Police Department, where he worked in units throughout the department and rose through the ranks to spend the last 11 years as its chief. He is the department’s 37th chief — and its second-longest serving — since the department was established in 1864.

During his tenure, Clements led the department’s focus on community policing and has worked closely with law enforcement, civil rights, and community organizations. He has received numerous commendations for outstanding police work and devotion to duty, including receiving the Providence Police Department Chief’s Award three times and the White House Champions of Change Award for Reducing Drug Use and Building a Healthier America.

Clements has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Rhode Island, a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Roger Williams University, and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University. He also graduated from the Senior Management Institute for Police at the Harvard Kennedy School at Boston University.


The announcement won congratulations from Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation.

US Senator Jack Reed called Clements’ appointment “a superb choice.”

“Chief Clements is one of the most distinguished and experienced police chiefs in the country,” Reed said in a statement Thursday. “He’s done a remarkable job in Providence, and he is someone who exemplifies the best qualities of a police officer: honesty, decency, dedication to the law, and respect for the community.”

Reed, who is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, helped include $324 million for COPS Hiring Grants in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations law, a $78 million increase over 2022.

“Federal COPS grants advance community policing resources by helping local cities and towns hire officers to meet their staffing needs,” Reed said. “They make a huge difference, and I know Chief Clements will make a positive difference leading the COPS office.”

Since it was established in 1994, the COPS Office has been appropriated more than $20 billion to advance community policing, including grants awarded to over 13,000 state, local and Tribal law enforcement agencies to fund the hiring and redeployment of more than 136,000 officers.

US Congressman David N. Cicilline said that Garland couldn’t have picked a better director. Cicilline said it was an honor to have worked with Clements as mayor of Providence, as well as a member of Congress.


“I look forward to partnering with him in this new role,” Cicilline said in a statement Thursday. “I know that he will continue his outstanding record of public service as the Director of the COPS Office at a vital time for implementing and strengthening smart community policing and providing much needed resources and support.”

Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos also congratulated Clements. As a Providence councilwoman, she had gotten to know Clements well — he was the first lieutenant to lead the district in Olneyville, which included her neighborhood, Ward 15.

“He has the character and the leadership skills necessary to promote community policing nationwide, and I am certain the @COPSOffice will thrive with him at the helm,” Matos tweeted.

Mayor Brett P. Smiley opened up the search for a new police chief on Friday — a decision that he’d hoped to avoid making. Smiley said that he’d tried to persuade Clements to remain as chief and lauded him for the department’s work.

“I didn’t want to leave. I’m so torn,” Clements told the Globe last month. “This is a great department, a great city, but you can’t stay forever.”

Clements chose to accept the new position with COPS — taking the advice of none other than Providence College men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley — but called the chief’s job “beyond the honor of a lifetime.”

This report has been updated with comments from Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. and statements from Senator Jack Reed and Congressman David N. Cicilline.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.