Andy Bellemer GRD ’10 was fast asleep when his car keys were swiped off his bedroom dresser. As he recalled the possessions that were stolen from his East Rock apartment that night in the summer of 2006, the keys, to him, were the most unsettling. He was in the room when they were taken.
The burglars used his 1999 Ford Escort to get away, taking his computer, cell phone and DVD player along for the ride.
“In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a life-changing event,” Bellemer said in an interview last week. “It’s something I think about a lot because I realized, in the aftermath, that a lot of information about crimes doesn’t really go out to graduate students.”
He reported the burglary to New Haven police. They told him, to his disappointment, that they had seen several incidents like his.
With about 5,000 students enrolled at the University’s graduate schools, Bellemer is not alone in experiencing the somtimes-harsh realities of city life. In the wake of a non-fatal shooting of a graduate student just over three weeks ago, some graduate students have once again begun to worry — with increased urgency — that some neighborhoods popular among graduate students are unsafe. But because many popular graduate student neighborhoods are off campus, Yale police do not usually handle their complaints. And while complacency may explain crimes against graduate students, the extent to which they are victimized is not fully known because of overlapping police jurisdictions.
When asked to approximate how many of their colleagues had fallen prey to crimes, either petty or serious, most of the graduate students interviewed for this article answered with percentages. Seventy percent, said one. Around 50 percent, said another. Julie Golomb GRD ’10, Bellemer’s current roommate (he has moved since the burglary), remarked that just about all of her close friends have at least been robbed, if not worse.
Rebutted Graduate School Dean Jon Butler: “I don’t believe that that’s accurate.”
“Graduate students who are victims of crimes account for a small percentage of overall crime reported to the YPD,” added Yale Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steven Woznyk.
Still, the graduate students interviewed believe they are slipping through the cracks, especially because a large portion of crimes committed against graduate students occur outside University property and, hence, YPD’s primary jurisdiction.
Consequently, the YPD does not have complete statistics on crimes against graduate students readily available because most incidents occurring off-campus are recorded and filed by the New Haven Police Department. At the same time, Woznyk said, the two police departments make a concerted effort to broadcast crimes, especially those that pose a “serious or continuing” threat to students and employees.
In spite of YPD Chief James Perrotti’s storied campuswide e-mails, Golomb called for more communication, not only for news of crimes that are life-threatening but for those that are equally damaging to quality of life, such as burglaries.
“I think it would be useful to compile some statistics on what percentage of grad students are victims of crimes,” she said. “I think it’s a lot more prevalent than it seems.”
Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar admitted that East Rock, a relatively wealthy and safe neighborhood that houses a large number of graduate students, experiences student-related upticks in crime. Lemar, who represents the area, said the crime spikes come in three droves: late August to early September, mid-December into the holidays, and May. In other words, the beginning of the academic year, the end of the fall semester and the end of the academic year.
Crimes in East Rock often fall under the category of “crimes of opportunity” — a purse or GPS system easily viewable through a car window, an unlocked bike — Lemar added. But Yale should not be blamed, he said.
“Yale has been very responsive to me,” Lemar said. “The [Yale] police department has extended its patrols out here — they’ve been really good about recognizing that there are crimes out here and being active about it.”
Lemar, himself a nine-year resident of the neighborhood, lamented the fluctuating presence of a dedicated East Rock cop over the last few years. He said the NHPD has been taking a reactive approach to crime in East Rock, although he conceded that a low volume of crime in the area makes it difficult to argue for a redeployment of already sparse police resources.
“When you look at the numbers, it makes it easy for them to ignore my calls,” he said.
In spite of what the graduate students claim are widespread occurrences of crime, Butler insisted that admissions at the Graduate School have not been impacted.
“Many institutions of higher learning in the United States have very similar situations to Yale; our situation is similar to that of many research universities,” Butler said. “We receive inquiries about crime, and we answer them fully and honestly.”
Butler pointed to the Graduate School’s orientation programs about safety — programs, ironically, that almost all the graduate students interviewed said they had never attended or had never heard of.
Nicole Wright GRD ’10 did go to the orientation during her first year in New Haven, 2004, but said she was disappointed. She remembers one student asking about what areas of New Haven would be best to avoid. The woman fielding questions, Wright said, refused to answer.
“She didn’t want to pinpoint different areas, and for something to then happen outside of those areas,” Wright said. She paused before continuing, “More information can only help.”