Gang violence warning unfounded, police say

Despite information in a e-mail widely circulated on Monday, both the New Haven Police Department and Yale Police Department on Tuesday denied having any information about an increase in gang activity this week.

The e-mail, originally sent by economics graduate registrar Pamela O’Donnell to graduate students in the department, was widely forwarded around campus by many people — including Pierson Master Harvey Goldblatt as well as dozens of concerned students. The e-mails — with subject lines such as “Expect More Violent Attacks on Members of the Yale Community” and “Guys, be extra careful this week” — warned that it is gang initiation week in New Haven, urged students to avoid walking alone at night and provided links to the Yale shuttle schedules.

But in the end, representatives from both the city’s police departments, the NHPD and the YPD, said they had neither reports of heightened levels of gang-related crime nor any reason to expect such crime.

O’Donnell said Tuesday that her e-mail stemmed from information she heard from an economics graduate student in the department who was attacked and robbed in the East Rock neighborhood of the city Friday. A group of males wearing masks assaulted the student in East Rock before running off with his wallet, NHPD spokesman Joseph Avery confirmed.

The victim told the News in an e-mail on Tuesday that though the police did not use the phrase “gang initiation week,” the officers he spoke with after the attack mentioned gang initiation “was definitely going on around this time” and suggested that the assault might have been related.

The student said he has a friend who works for the Department of Children and Families in Dixwell who told him that the DCF was recently notified to be on high alert this week. Josh Howroyd, spokesman for the Connecticut DCF, said Tuesday that he was not aware of any reports that it was gang initiation time but that people in the New Haven office had heard about the circulating e-mails.

Even though the both the NHPD and YPD said they have no specific information about gang-related threats, Jacqueline Meadow ’11 said she still plans to be extra vigilant this week.

“Given that there is a rumor going around, it is better to be safe than sorry,” she said.

Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said Tuesday that if YPD Chief James Perrotti had any knowledge of increased danger to Yale students, he would communicate it in a campuswide e-mail as soon as possible.

This is not the first rumor of New Haven gang initiations in recent memory. This week last year, City Hall employees received a forwarded e-mail saying: “My friend who works at the Whalley Avenue Jail has just informed me that there will be a gang initiation tonight where they will rear end you and once you get out of the car they will shoot you.”

In the days that followed, however, no incident like the one described occurred.

Although the premise of O’Donnell’s e-mail stemmed from an isolated incident, many urban areas across the country dealt with rumors of gang violence this week. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, the rumors were reported to have started in the same way: e-mails widely circulated to area residents meant to issue serious warnings. E-mails sent in Charlotte, N.C., and Houston, Texas, contained the same story of gang initiations that was sent to New Haven municipal employees last year. Houston police and Charlotte-area sheriff’s deputies, reached by phone Tuesday, both referred to the e-mails as urban myths.

Tuesday afternoon, Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway sent an e-mail to the college saying that in a phone call with the YPD, he was assured that there has been no evidence of an uptick in crime around campus.

His advice to students: “Have fun, be safe, be smart.”

Comments

  • A reader

    Thanks to Ross and Korn for writing this. It is refreshing to see YDN reporters following up on important crime stories, especially given Chief Perrotti's selective(to put it diplomatically) approach to informing the community about crimes in the vicinity of the Yale campus. It's unfortunate that, regarding the discrepancy between the grad student's report and the PR by the police department, I am inclined to give more credence to the former, having heard some "spinning" about crime from the PD.