While many Yale graduates choose to carve careers in finance, law or medicine, Sgt. Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 chose God and the New Haven Police Department.
The Harlem-born father of three is among many Yalies who over the years have chosen to stay in New Haven after graduation. But Campbell opted for a less common route: A religious studies major and theology graduate, Campbell joined the NHPD as an officer in 1998. He is currently a sergeant on the police force, splitting his time between the New Haven Police Academy, where he serves as its executive officer, and local prisons, where he serves as a minister.
QFew Yale graduates pursue a career in policing or religion. What prompted you to do both?
AI was born in Harlem to teenage parents. My mother was a corrections officer, and my father was a drug dealer. In the time he spent outside of prison, my father always told me that I was not going to follow his path, that I was going to complete my education and join the church. Then at Yale, I met and fell in love with my present wife. Clearly, priesthood was no longer an option. But I still wanted to minister to people, and that is how I found my way into the police force.
QWhy did you choose to join the NHPD instead of the New York Police Department?
AI chose not to return to Harlem because I did not feel the community connections I felt in New Haven. It was just too big, and I was convinced that I was just going to be another small fish in a big ocean. I felt that I could make a tangible difference in New Haven, and since I wanted to continue my education at the Divinity School, staying here was the ideal choice for me.
QHow did others react to your decision to join the police force?
AThere was a lot of resistance. My friends would ask why I would want to join the police force when I could be making six figures in banking or law. But it was never about the money. Sure, I did myself a disfavor in that I had massive student loans to repay. But I always wanted to give back to the community and to help people other than just myself. On the other end, other police officers were skeptical. There was this idea that my being a Yale graduate meant that I did not know what life is really like. But when they learned that I was born in Harlem and grew up in the hood, their opinion shifted.
QWhat was your first year with the NHPD like?
AThe biggest difficulty is reconciling the reality of policing with the theory taught in the [New Haven Police Academy] classroom. You realize that in reality, policing is a hard, thankless job that takes a toll on your family and relationships. You learn that people call the police when they are at their worst. I saw people getting shot and families tearing themselves apart. Yet at the same time, I also saw an opportunity for me to minister to people in need.
QWhat was the most transformative experience you had in your first months?
AThe suicide of a fellow officer who had graduated with me from the Police Academy. We had been on a routine call together just hours before he died. His death reinforced in me the fact that when you are a policeman, you never really leave the job.
QWhat are your plans for the future? How do you see religion and policing in your career plans?
ARight now, I plan on climbing the career ladder, learning as much as I can from my superiors and developing my leadership skills. Eventually, I hope to focus on prison ministry or army chaplaincy, because it is in those areas where I see people under huge strains, and those are where I want to offer spiritual guidance.