In response to these incidents and rising concern about campus crime, Yale University Police announced the reactivation of an undercover street crime unit that has not been active for several years. Although increased security presence on campus does raise some concerns, we believe this unit is the best approach for improving safety with minimal disruption of campus life.
There has been much coverage of the increasing safety of New Haven over the last decade. But new figures indicate such progress has stalled, and crime rates in the city rose slightly in 2003, reversing the long downward trend. Yet, we continue to feel safe and view campus crimes as isolated events, not recurrent ones. Most of us have never been personally affected and consider high crime to be a stolen bike or laptop. Although we hardly sense the beginning of a real crime wave, the recent robberies serve as unnerving reminders that despite New Haven’s revitalization and the protection offered by the Yale bubble, we as a community are not immune to violent crime.
The Yale University Police has shown that it can respond to such incidents in an appropriate and timely manner, demonstrated this year by its increasing communication with students via e-mail about campus crimes. We appreciate the flexibility of the University Police, which has reacted swiftly to changing demands. The reactivated unit, which will consist of two plainclothes policemen in an unmarked car, will patrol areas students have reported as locations where they feel most unsafe. Such responsiveness to student needs is one example of how University Police has earned our trust by being protectors, not enforcers.
But protection from what? Despite what it does for campus security, the reactivation of the patrol establishes a strange town-gown relationship — a dynamic that Yale students need to be protected from New Haven. In order to be effective in discouraging crime, the new security measures must be publicized. But we worry that the message we’re broadcasting may widen the gulf between campus and the surrounding city.
However, it is hard to put a price on safety, and we believe the police are right in their assessment that the recent string of crimes — isolated or not — calls for heightened security. Undercover units, selected because of their increased effectiveness, are also a good choice because they will keep to a minimum disruption of student life. We don’t want to see our campus swarming with cops; we like how safe we’ve come to feel and would hate to see the atmosphere of fear that might develop if large forces of dressed officers were to patrol campus. And we hope the less conspicuous plainclothes officers will reduce the strain increased security might have on Yale-New Haven relations.
It’s a testament to the work of the University Police that despite such isolated incidents, we still feel safe on campus. With actions like the reactivation of the undercover task force, it will be the work of the University Police that keeps us from becoming victims of the same violent crimes.