Ortiz’s new calling: Yale West security

Fresh off the sands of Myrtle Beach, sporting a fresh tan but not the badge he wore for 30 years, Francisco Ortiz was glad to have some time to recuperate.

But this past Monday, it was back to work for Cisco.

Just 10 days after leaving his post as chief of the New Haven Police Department, Ortiz had already moved into his new office on Ashmun Street — Yale Police Department headquarters. Ortiz’s new job: direct public security at Yale’s West Campus, the expansive 137-acre parcel of land the University purchased from Bayer HealthCare last year to house research labs and other facilities.

Since the purchase of the complex, University administrators have widely celebrated the expansion for the additional resources it will provide professors and researchers. At once, Yale had acquired 550,000 square feet in laboratory space to bolster its programs in the sciences, along with storage space and administrative offices, for the thrift-store price of $109 million.

As one nears the end of the 10-minute drive down Interstate 95 to West Haven, the differences between the sparsely populated West Campus and central campus, even in terms of security, are immediately noticeable.

Visitors must check in at a gated checkpoint that protects what is currently the complex’s main entrance. The buildings are connected by private roads. The complex is entirely fenced in, sheltered from the outside world.

Unlike the Yale most students know, which is fully immersed in downtown New Haven, the West Campus straddles two more subdued municipalities: West Haven and Orange.

Compared to the hustle-and-bustle of the Elm City, the area that encircles the West Campus is a sea of calm. The rolling hills and single-family homes are a drastic departure from the urban whirlwind in which students find themselves today.

As he sat in Woodbridge Hall on Tuesday morning — as an employee, no longer an outsider — Ortiz remarked on his seemingly odd, though actually quite unsurprising, move from being top cop of the third-largest city in the state to coordinating security for a quiet, gated complex in the middle of Connecticut suburbia.

“When you’re responsible for the security of others,” he said, “the priorities are the same.”

***

While New Haven police officers seem to be perpetually battling surges in crime, the opposite is the case for officers in neighboring West Haven and Orange.

“By and large, that area [near West Campus] is extremely safe, aside from some burglar alarms that may accidentally go off,” West Haven Police Department spokesman Sgt. Martin Garcia said.

In an interview Tuesday, University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said Ortiz’s main role will be to “coordinate security services” at the West Campus.

While Yale Security Director George Aylward, a former chief of the Middletown, Conn., and University of Minnesota police departments, will continue to direct physical security — including alarms, locks and building mechanics — Ortiz will be responsible for coordinating security coverage with the surrounding jurisdictions of West Haven and Orange.

Unlike in New Haven — where the YPD shares a memorandum of understanding with the NHPD that allows the University to post YPD officers around campus, in addition to Yale Security officers — future faculty and staff on the West Campus will have to rely on the WHPD and the Orange Police Department for protection beyond that provided by the Yale Security guards who will be on patrol.

But that does not mean Yale faces a challenge connecting with the local authorities. As a former chief of police, Ortiz comes with an extensive network of contacts and relationships with neighboring law-enforcement agencies.

“To me, [my role is] not just bringing in my years of experience but also bringing in my experience with the nearby municipalities,” he said.

Even before he took his official post with the University, Ortiz started meeting with the chiefs of police at West Haven and Orange to work on coordinating their efforts.

The University has already hired the same security guards who patrolled the complex when it was owned by Bayer, Highsmith said. Because the number of personnel in place will not be “adequate going forward” as activity on West Campus gradually increases over the next several months, the University plans to hire new security staff as the plans for the space are finalized, Highsmith said.

Part of Ortiz’s job will be to assess the impact of a new Yale population in the area on the surrounding population, gauging the impact of the new campus on the needs of the area.

For now, the impact appears to be nil. While the West Campus bustled with nearly 3,000 employees just years ago, it is now virtually abandoned, with just a few remaining Bayer employees annexed into a small office building and little other activity aside from the few Yale Security vehicles roaming the complex.

Indeed, it could be several years before the University fully occupies the research laboratories on the site, let alone the rest of the sprawling campus.

But with time, the now-quiet complex should come to life, administrators promise.

Nevertheless, when “Yale arrives” at West Campus, Garcia, who also heads the WHPD’s crime-prevention unit, said he does not think it will affect safety in the area.

“I don’t anticipate that it’s all of a sudden going to become a problem,” he said. “Aside from maybe a small isolated incident here and there, I don’t anticipate any problems.”

***

When YPD Chief James Perrotti was but an officer on the department’s street-crime unit, he encountered a now familiar face while receiving a routine briefing at the New Haven Detective’s Bureau.

A younger Cisco was also serving on a street-crime unit at the time, but for the NHPD. The two departments’ units worked closely together on patrol.

“One of the things I’ll always remember is that he was always a friendly face and always helpful,” Perrotti said Wednesday. “I distinctly remember that.”

Ortiz echoed Perrotti’s sentiments: “We instantly hit it off.”

In addition to being New Haven’s former chief of police, Ortiz also presided over the NHPD when a corruption scandal hit the department’s narcotics-enforcement unit last March, which prompted the city to hire an independent consultant group to draft recommendations for the NHPD’s overhaul.

Ortiz’s departure this month will allow a new chief to enact the major reforms the report suggests. He was never tied to the corruption.

Now that his career path has changed course, Ortiz and Perrotti will get more face time during the average week than ever before.

In addition to being a senior director of public security, Ortiz will also act as a special assistant to Perrotti and the YPD. The YPD has long been eyeing a state accreditation — which is essentially a seal of approval of the department’s various functions, from recruitment to bookkeeping — and both Highsmith and Perrotti said Ortiz will be instrumental in organizing the department’s efforts to receive that accreditation, in addition to working on West Campus security efforts.

Asked what kind of advice he might solicit from Ortiz, Perrotti found it difficult to answer.

“It’s pretty hard to describe him,” he said. “This is a man with a vast amount of experience and knowledge. From the projects we’re doing to our daily work, he’s just a good person to run things by.”

Perrotti said he does not think it odd that Ortiz is now responsible for a far-less problematic and populated area.

“Having been in policing for the time that I have been, I know it’s not uncommon for police chiefs to move to other areas of employment that may be of interest to them,” he said.

Although he will spend the majority of his time on the West Campus for the next few months, Ortiz will not be leaving the New Haven any time soon — Mayor John DeStefano Jr. appointed Ortiz to the Board of Fire Commissioners shortly after his retirement.

University President Richard Levin remarked last spring that acquiring the West Campus from the former pharmaceutical company was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Similarly, when Ortiz first announced his retirement from the NHPD last December, Highsmith said the University had seized a “unique opportunity.”

But while Levin and Provost Andrew Hamilton can boast picking up the new laboratory space for a bargain, Ortiz’s services may not have been quite as good a deal.

The former chief, who posted a salary just over $100,000 for the last five years — “some of my guys were making double that,” he said Tuesday — would not disclose the details of his contract with Yale.

­—Thomas Kaplan and Raymond Carlson contributed reporting.

For part four, a look at how the laboratory-laden West Campus will actually provide a boost to Yale’s art programs, see Friday’s News

Comments

  • Alum

    If you made a list of the 20 most interesting things to write about the new West Campus, would security make the list? The article is fine but I kept asking myself, why did they run this?

  • allie09

    So the present Director of Security is incapable of coordinating security with West Haven and Orange? Basically this article says Ortiz is a hand shaker. The new area is gated and fenced in? Theres a security dilema if there ever was one for Yale.