Mount Holyoke, Smith colleges to form separate police forces

  • About 500 people gathered at a protest on Smith College’s campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school’s police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2019 3:44:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges have announced that they will no longer operate a joint police department.

In letters to campus on Monday, both private colleges said they are undertaking a yearlong process to re-envision their campus police departments. That means that by July 1, 2020, Smith and Mount Holyoke will operate their own independent departments. The two colleges have shared a police chief since 2004 and have operated a combined police force since 2009. Until earlier this year, Hampshire College also shared a police chief and force with the two colleges. 

“While our institutions have a deep respect for our joint history as women’s colleges, as educational institutions within the Connecticut River Valley, and as committed members of the Five College Consortium, we each recognize an independent need to develop approaches to campus policing that are suited to our unique communities,” Mount Holyoke Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Shannon Gurek wrote in her statement.

The announcement comes after the previous joint police chief, Daniel Hect, parted ways with the schools in May following student-led protests over his social media activity, which included “liking” a Twitter post instructing President Donald Trump to “BUILD THAT WALL!”

Hect had been police chief since Feb. 18, but on April 10 — amid demonstrations at Smith — both colleges sent letters to their campuses saying that some had voiced distrust in Hect and that the administrations were placing him on administrative leave. 

The announcement of Hect’s departure was posted on Mount Holyoke College’s website on May 14. The Gazette was the first to report on the departure in a June 4 article.

On Monday, both colleges published coordinated statements in the form of FAQ (frequently asked questions) sections on their websites, regarding the decision to have separate campus police departments. Mount Holyoke included the question of whether the change was “a response to the recent situation with Chief Hect.”

“No,” the college wrote. “In recent years, we have increasingly recognized the need to develop approaches to campus policing that are tailored to the specific needs of our campus communities. Last month Daniel Hect’s employment as Chief of Campus Police for Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges ended by mutual and amicable agreement.”

Neither Smith College spokeswoman Stacey Schmeidel nor Mount Holyoke spokeswoman Christian Feuerstein responded to an emailed question as to whether Hect — who was hired only four months ago — had been slated to serve as the chief of only one of the campuses, as opposed to both. Instead, both colleges repeated language from their respective FAQ pages.

Both colleges said that students, faculty and staff will have a chance to give input on what campus policing should look like moving forward. 

Mount Holyoke said that during the next school year there will be listening sessions and focus groups designed to collect community feedback. Smith said the search committee for a new police chief will have a student representative and that the campus community will be able to meet finalists and provide input.

“In the coming months, we will engage members of the Smith community in a thoughtful, inclusive process,” Smith College Interim Vice President for Finance and Administration David DeSwert wrote in his letter to campus.

Students from Smith College’s Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change, which organized a protest on campus on April 11, partly in response to Hect, did not return phone and email requests for comment on Monday’s announcement.

Because of the dissolution of the campus police collaborative, there will be staffing changes at both schools. 

“The college will work closely with campus police staff and union representatives to develop a staffing model that meets the needs of the community,” reads Smith College’s statement. “In the coming weeks and months, both colleges will be working closely with the Union’s leadership in order to discuss the impact that transitioning back to two separate campus police departments will have on current employees,” reads Mount Holyoke’s statement.

Interim Police Chief Ray Labarre will continue to serve as the head of the joint department over the next year.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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