Elm City safer than depicted

To those who have never set foot in the Elm City, New Haven may seem to be a liability for Yale. But in recent years, student perception of the city has become more positive.

As crime rates have been cut in half over the last 15 years and Yale has made more aggressive pushes to improve New Haven’s image, the long-held negative perceptions of the Elm City are fading. Students said their experiences in New Haven proved preconceived notions wrong, and administrators said New Haven’s real improvements in recent years have positively affected its perception.

According to an ONHSA survey of 100 randomly-selected students conducted last spring, students hold a significantly more favorable opinion of the New Haven once they have spent some time in the city. The survey found that more than half of students arrived at Yale with a negative opinion of the Elm City but 52 percent held a positive opinion of the city once they had spent time here, with 23 percent holding a neutral view and 25 percent a negative view.

Yale Police Department Sgt. Steven Woznyk said negative perceptions of crime in New Haven do not match the current reality, as crime has dropped significantly in the past decade. The initial drop coincided with the city’s introduction of community-based policing, he said. The YPD also adopted community-based policing, he said, and adjusts its activity according to needs.

“In fall 2005, there was certainly a rise in street crime so we had to increase our resources with [more] foot patrols,” he said. “I think the basic perception not just among students but among members of the community is that since the early 90s and the inception of community-based policing, that crime is down.”

Lara Berlin ’07 said she has never felt in danger as a student but that safety — especially robberies — has become more of an issue in recent years.

“In general, over the last few years, safety has become more of an issue,” she said. “I think [the YPD has] done a good job of increasing the number of police officers and security officers on campus and in nearby areas.”

Since 1990, the total annual crime rate in New Haven has dropped by more than half, from 21,012 crimes committed in 1990 to 9,167 in 2006, according to city statistics. After crime rates stabilized from 2000 to 2005, the rate dropped again last year by almost 700. But the overall drop was accompanied by a surge in murders and youth violence for the first time in several years, though the murders did not directly affect the Yale neighborhood.

Meredith Williams ’09 said that that before arriving at Yale from Irvine, Calif., she had heard that New Haven had improved in recent years, but she was still wary about its overall safety. She now makes sure to be careful when out at night, she said, and generally feels safe.

“I … heard that New Haven wasn’t a safe place but had gotten safer over the last couple of years,” Williams said.

Dean of Admissions Jeff Brenzel said admissions officers visiting high schools have fielded relatively few questions about New Haven’s safety issues in recent years. Although some students are concerned about New Haven’s safety issues, he said, many see New Haven as an asset.

“New Haven’s renaissance as an arts and entertainment center has brought along with it an extraordinary level of … development for a city of this size,” Brenzel said. “Yale’s attractions as a college town have been on a sharp upward course for several years.”

Reginald Solomon, program director for New Haven and State Affairs, said students often have negative perceptions of New Haven before they visit Yale. But these perceptions are misguided, he said.

Solomon said ONHSA, which was created in 1993 shortly after Yale President Richard Levin’s inauguration, tries to offer opportunities for students to see the city for themselves. In addition to CityScape — a program that offers a guided bus tour of New Haven to incoming freshmen — ONHSA also sponsors a number of student-led initiatives, such as the YCC’s Ninth at Nite event last semester.

Freshman counselor Hannah Oakland ’07 said she thinks the University and the YPD briefed students well about safety in New Haven during Camp Yale, and that none of her freshmen have approached with her with safety concerns so far.

But Dwight Hall Co-Coordinator Jessica Bialecki ’08 said the University could do more to help students gain a better understanding of the city when they first arrive as freshmen.

“Yale could do more outreach to pre-frosh and to the general public,” she said. “We should change [students’] perceptions but they should still be realistic perceptions.”

Williams said she agrees it is important for Yale students to become involved in the New Haven community beyond Yale. This sort of action, she said, is the only way for students to understand areas they would otherwise automatically deem “sketchy.”

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