Grad students question safety

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.”


  • Princes and Princesses

    So it is a surprise that one of the richest universities in the world which is physically situated amidst an urban ghetto is the object of theft? What dream world are the princes and princesses of yale living in?

  • Genetics "12

    Once Princes and Princesses gets mugged, I'm sure he/she will drop the smug attitude.

    Rate of robbery is not 50%, but not a small percentage either. I would estimate 20%.

  • Grad

    It's not like grad students affix crowns and scepters to their doors as an invitation to criminals, pal. At least most of us (the poor ones) don't.

    Bharat explains (sort of) why the story doesn't supply YPD numbers for prominent grad student neighborhoods (though presumably they have their admittedly incomplete figures), but it seems clear from the article that he didn't ask the NHPD to fill in the gaps. Why not? Granted, the NHPD probably doesn't have an explicit crime category for "Yale students," but unless you have a sinking feeling that this trend is BS (given low YPD numbers), it's worth trying to figure out, no?

    This would also have been a good opportunity to sketch out the primary grad student neighborhoods and point out where/when the crimes have been committed.

    Finally, two questions for Andy: 1) How the hell didn't you wake up, and 2) Was your door locked?

  • non

    Give me a break. You live in one of the largest cities in the United States. Of course there is crime. I lived in the richest part of Washington DC for 5 years, and people were shot in robberies all around. Nobody talked about them because we weren't a community of grad students where 20,000 people get an email every time a person is verbally threatened. Someone was shot in my apartment building lobby in Seattle, and the tenants on my floor didn't even hear about it. GET OVER YOURSELVES!

  • average joe

    this must be what it feels like to be a lehman or bear stearns shareholder.

  • Yalie

    <sigh> you might want to get a clue. New Haven isn't a "ghetto" anymore than any number of cities, but it is an urban environment.

  • new haven, safe

    For Yale students to complain about crime is itself a crime. Welcome to New Haven! It's actually safer than many other similarly dense cities, but yes, there is a lot of violence.

    But no, most of it is not in the Yale region of the city. Edgewood, Dixwell, Newhallville: they all say hi … When was the last random shooting of a Yale student? Right, the early 1990s.

    And by the way, I'm a Yale student, so I get all those ridiculous "federal reporting" emails. Notice a trend! All the robberies and assaults on the streets occur between 12 and 3 on poorly lit streets. Surprise!

    Two good choices: don't be out and about in the downtown of an urban city at that hour.

    Or two, call Yale Security — any time, anywhere. I guess that's why we pay the tuition we do.

  • AER

    It seems to me that a lot of people are surprised at the level of crime in New Haven simply because it is a relatively small city, and because the word "Connecticut" evokes images of Katherine Hepburn and cozy farm-houses to many people outside the Northeast. I think all Yale can be expected to do about it is to remind students that this is a city like any other, and that everyone needs to be aware of his or her surroundings and security.

    Incidentally, my husband and I have been robbed twice since moving to East Rock a little over a year ago. This never happened to us in the Newhallville area, where we heard gunshots regularly. When you think about it, a ritzier neighborhood makes a better target for thieves.

  • Anonymous

    #4, do you really think that New Haven is "one of the largest cities in the United States?"

  • Uh…

    So because crime happens everywhere, we should be happy about it here?

  • real problem

    Perhaps Poster #7 should actually read Chief Perrotti's emails. On August 21, 2008, a Yale graduate student was shot at 8pm in East Rock. On September 7, 2008, a Yale graduate student and his friend were mugged on the corner of College and Crown at 12:45am on a Saturday night (i.e., right in the middle of the "Yale region" during prime bar time). So, surprise, not all incidents occur when people walk alone in the "bad" neighborhoods in the wee hours of the morning.

  • #9

    #9, New Haven is denser than Portland or Seattle. The metro area has 800,000+ people in it… and actually much, much more if you take areas like Stamford/Greenwich that in any other part of the U.S. would be considered part of the same city.

    Sometimes people are confused because the "municipality" of New Haven only has 130,000 people, but that's only because it covers a tiny land area (due to 18th century land boundaries). If you're comparing municipalities, you're going to have trouble because New Haven's small land area skews the stats. It's less than 18 square miles of area, whereas many mid sized American cities are 100+ square miles.

    Look at TV markets (DMAs) for a good apples-to-apples comparison of American cities.

  • Anonymous

    New Haven is a small city with big city problems.

  • Observer

    Whoever referred to New Haven as one of the richest cities in the country: you are way, way off the mark. It is actually one of the poorer cities in the country.

    And why is it a crime for anyone, Yale community member or otherwise, to complain about crime?

    New Haven may have sparse resources and many needs, but if people do not feel safe -- more and more neighborhoods will become dangerous, fewer people will feel safe to go shop or live in the city. If more police officers are needed in the city, the Mayor should wake up.

  • Ryan

    If I had comprehended how terrible the crime here is, I would have gone to Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, or UCLA. Hell, even Columbia is a lot safer than this place.

  • Mathew

    The thought of someone creeping around while your sleeping is horrifying. Thank God the weather is getting a little cooler,because certain strategic windows are slamming shut and staying locked.
    Glad to hear from Mr.Lemar ,the 9'th ward Alder. The popular guy around East Rock.
    Hey Roland you lived in the East Rock community for nine years ?,what did you do register to vote immediately when Addonizio retired ?or was her retirement known to Miss Voigt first, No big deal ,but i pulled the ward 8,9,& 10 2005 voting sheets out of my files and cannot find your name - Not 6 Eld, not anywhere
    Well as long as the constituents are happy,and the boss.

  • alum

    The City of New Haven recently (this week) postponed seating a new academy class of police officers, from Spring 09 to Fall 09, in order to "save" $400,000.

    $400,000 out of a $400 million city budget? Is that a joke? Didn't the city listen to its constituents, that more police are needed?

  • Roland L.

    Hi Mathew,

    Thanks for writing in and commenting on the issues we are facing here in East Rock - Too bad you chose to lose focus on the issue and how you can help and instead make a few uneducated smartass remarks- BTW, if you are going to look at voting records, why only focus on 2005? -You must have missed me voting in NH every year that I have lived here, except 2005. BTW, not that I feel the need to bring this up, but most people around NH already know this, so I quess it won't hurt to share it with you too, but during election season in 2005, unfortunatly, I was in and out of the hospital fighting cancer. I mean, I really do hate to jump on your witty/snarky remark, but seriously, do a little more research next time.

  • Anonymous

    Sure, the knee-jerk reaction is to feel that over-privileged, coddled Yalies are whining about what many Americans deal with on a regular basis. But let me tell you -- the fact that this is a knee-jerk reaction just underscores exactly what is so wrong with this country! Why do we put up with the highest crime rates in the industrialized world? Why do we think it's just "city life" to get mugged, have our cars broken into, have our property damaged, get jumped by roving gangs of kids on bikes, and face harassment on a regular basis?

    The Yale-affiliated people living in East Rock, including grad students, and also including postdocs, faculty, doctors, full-time research scientists, and more, are NOT whiners!! They came from all socio-economic backgrounds, from a vast array of countries, and what they share in common is total dedication to long hours of hard work, intensive study, and total commitment to earn their place among the most accomplished, most respected, most prestigious academics and medical professionals in the world! These are the people who lead technology into new frontiers, push the envelope on scientific discoveries, and bring in millions of dollars of research money -- and these are the people who ultimately are responsible for achieving the level of prestige Yale requires to keep feeding its multi-billion dollar endowment! These people don't complain about a mugging here and there -- that's why it's so underreported!! But for all of us who have lived in East Rock, we know the truth -- live here long enough, and you will be the victim of one of these crimes.

    So go ahead -- take the cynical attitude that members of the Yale community shouldn't voice their concerns, that they should feel lucky just to be here. Deny the truth that NOT all comparable institutions have crime like ours, and just pretend that prospective students, faculty, and other employees never turn down Yale out of concern for safety. Nothing can be done about crime, anyway. It doesn't matter that the cash strapped city government -- surrounding the obscenely rich university -- isn't able to provide services, such as after-school programs that keep kids engaged and elevate a struggling community, giving it some hope.

    Why should Yale should be accountable for demonstrating how it is working its hardest to build up New Haven, that it should try to attract the most dedicated, top achievers in the world?? It would be fantasy to think that a safe walk home at the end of a long night of slaving away in the lab is a reasonable expectation, right? Employees should just accept that despite reaching the highest levels of success in their career, they still might have a gun pulled on them from time to time!

    What really sends a clear signal of complacency and lack of compassion is Dean Butler's statement that other universities deal with crime too, but Yale's admissions don't seem to suffer. Basically, to paraphrase, "we know crime is a problem, but why should we care about it if our numbers are good?" So, maybe he's right that the numbers are good, but so what?? Why can't Yale take a page from it's own community members and strive for a little excellence in this area? Why don't they make it a goal to make Yale the safest community of its kind in the country? Do they really expect us to believe that they don't have the cash to hire a few extra patrols? Or that they can't work a bit harder in investing in the struggling communities of New Haven?

    I hate to see any bad press for Yale, but maybe the only hope for real progress is if the administration gets some heat over this.

  • Grad student

    Amen #19! I couldn't have said it better!

  • David Streever

    I'm actually an active neighbor/resident of East Rock, & I'm very happy with our alder--Roland Lemar. Of course he has no competition. No one in our neighborhood would run against him: We like him too much.

    He's been a strong advocate, an affective voice for our community, & he has a lot of support in our ward. You'd be a fool to run against him. Establishing himself as a great alderman has led to uncontested votes, which is admirable.

    Who exactly are you, Mathew, to sit back on your throne & mock him? You've established no identity & no background. All you are is an anonymous, angry, bitter little man on an internet message board. Roland works extremely hard and receives what, 1800 dollars a year from the city?

    If Yale is really as concerned as this article makes it sound,
    step 1. Get your drivers to follow the speed limit/not run red lights. It's hard to find a Yale vehicle doing so: I'm almost ready to start handing out awards when I find one that isn't running red lights or driving along Edwards at 40.

    step 2. acknowledge that it's grad students who get robbed in East Rock, and start covering this neighborhood. The City is in dire straits, and has a large "resident" who doesn't pay taxes. Time to get the yale police out here.

    Out of curiousity:
    Why is Mathew's latest comment posted?

    In what way is it remotely relevant to this story?

    Is it really helpful to this story to have someone mock a cancer survivor & tell him he's not doing well & then berate him?

  • East Rocker

    Has anyone read the papers ? they are having a new movement involving two Alders, plans to change the road infrastructure. sounds like they might need money to waste on outside engineers to examine this assinine idea.anything and everything to waste taxpayers money,there are laws on the books and the police are following orders to ignore them .The Carnival atmosphere in East Rock will not spread to other neighborhoods.