Op-Ed: A Farewell to Police Chief Hugh Clements

Remembering the former police chief’s legacy as Providence prepares for a new one


It was the late ‘80s. My cousin Bunny Fain and I had just unlocked the front door of Fain’s Carpets on North Main Street and were about to start the day as we often did, sharing some morning coffee as we tried to solve the world’s problem one by one. The large window in my office looked out onto the sales floor where we noticed a man dressed in a two-piece running  suit entering the store. After a quick look around, he went to a pile of small oriental rugs, picked up as many as he could carry, put them under his arms, and raced out the door with us in pursuit.                                                                                        

By the time we got outside, all we could see was the thief jumping into a beat-up car driven by an accomplice and speeding off down the street. We looked at each in disbelief. “What just happened?” “Just another day in the office,” Bunny joked. We called the police to report the theft, gave them a description of the car as best we could, and returned to solving those world problems.

Much to our surprise, about an hour later, we got a call from the police that they’d caught the thief! A young patrolman showed up at our front door with our rugs under his arms. Over a cup of coffee, he explained he’d seen the two men going into Fidas Restaurant on Valley Street in a car that matched the description the police had sent out. Fancy oriental rugs in the back seat? Something didn’t look right. 

“Is there anything we can do to say thanks?” we asked. He smiled, “Nope, just doing my job.”  

In those days I was splitting my time pretty evenly between Fain’s and being the editor/publisher of East Side Monthly newspaper, so I did have a way to say thank you. In the paper’s next issue, I wrote a small blurb reporting what had occurred and the fine police work that had provided a happy ending.  

The young patrolman was Hugh Clements.

Over the years, it’s been gratifying to follow his steady rise up the ranks from patrolman to detective to upper management and finally as the respected – perhaps beloved is an even better word – Police Chief of Providence. And now, with his appointment to a new position with the Department of Justice in Washington as its head of community policing, his rise up the ranks continues to accelerate.

Whenever I have had the pleasure of bumping into the chief, we always laugh and fondly recall our first meeting. This is part of what makes him such a special leader. Despite his well-deserved praise as perhaps the best police chief Providence has ever had, he has never lost his sense of humility and commitment to professionalism that has fueled it. 

Clements’ recent appointment of Oscar Perez, an outspoken advocate for the current community policing model, as the city’s new Deputy Chief and Major has been widely praised. Mayor Smiley has consistently and unambiguously confirmed his commitment to community policing as well.

We only hope that whomever the Mayor brings in to be his new chief will be allowed to do their job without the constant bureaucratic interference, which regrettably often held Chief Clements’ exceptional policing capabilities and better judgment back.

The City owes a debt, big time, to the departing chief for the job he has done and the strong department he has left behind to look after our safety. And in his new position in Washington, there’s an obvious opportunity for him to help ensure Providence remains at the forefront of the community policy track he was so instrumental in building here.

Thanks Chief, for a superb job well done.


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