Police caught off guard

Police clear students from Elm Street.
Police clear students from Elm Street. Photo by Egidio DiBenedetto.

Yale officials, either unaware or unconvinced, were caught off guard Saturday when a six-foot ball did in fact start bobbing over a crowd of a thousand people.

Despite the flood of fliers and e-mails that were circulated around campus last week and an article in Friday’s News, Yale police had no plan in place and were slow to respond to the game, which shut down traffic on Elm Street.

Police push bystanders to the sidewalk and wave through traffic.
Police push bystanders to the sidewalk and wave through traffic.
Students toss the bladderball up and down in the midst of traffic on Elm Street.
Students toss the bladderball up and down in the midst of traffic on Elm Street.

“We had no prior information that this was to occur,” Yale Police Chief James Perrotti said in an e-mail. “We were not given the opportunity to plan for the event.”

Yale College Dean Mary Miller said Thursday that she thought the rumors of bladderball’s return were a “giant hoax”; indeed, the University did nothing to prepare for the event. In an e-mail Sunday night, Miller said Yale officials will investigate how the event took place without University approval.

“We expect that this will turn out to be an expensive exploit once the tally of police overtime is in,” she wrote.

In interviews with more than 40 students, 10 of them described the police as disorganized in their approach to containing the game. When students were playing on Cross Campus, police stood guiding traffic on Elm Street. But when the mob tried to walk into the road, the police became aggressive, some students said.

One bladderball participant, James Campbell ’13, said he was shoved to the ground by a police officer who screamed profanities.

Perrotti wrote that he had not heard of any incidents of police aggression during the event. University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees Yale security, did not respond to multiple phone requests for comment Sunday. New Haven Police Department spokesman Joe Avery declined to comment Sunday, saying he had not heard about bladderball’s occurrence.

When the game began at 4 p.m. Saturday, there was no police presence. But Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry soon witnessed what was happening on Cross Campus and called the police, Council of Masters chair and Calhoun College Master Jonathan Holloway said. Gentry wrote in an e-mail statement that he called a colleague about a crowd of students on Cross Campus but did not “see the bladderball event take place.” He did not respond to a request to clarify his comments.

Perrotti wrote that once police received word of the disturbance, all on-duty officers rushed to the scene. But upon arrival — about 10 or 15 minutes into the game — the police only tried to regulate the game rather than stop it.

“It was like trying to stop Niagara Falls with three sandbags,” Eliot Shimer ’12 said.

The first to arrive were two police officers on motorcycles, said William Desmond ’12, who witnessed the event from his third-story Berkeley College window. The officers parked near Durfee’s and soon started to direct traffic on the street. They were soon joined by a police cruiser, which was parked in front of Berkeley.

“They pretty much ignored the game,” Desmond said. “They just tried to make sure no one got hit by a car.”

While the police officers honked at the crowds and attempted to push participants off the road in order to let cars go by, participants largely ignored them.

Overwhelmed by the crowd, the police adopted a concerned yet observant disposition once the students entered Cross Campus.

The police officers were “less concerned with enforcing the law than with containing the mayhem to one location,” George Harris ’11 said.

Around 4:40 p.m., when students popped the bladderball near Berkeley College, the police officers started to disperse as the crowds diminished. At the end of the day, no serious injuries were reported. There were a few bloody noses and at least one broken toe.

Before Saturday, the game of bladderball had not been seen on Yale’s campus since 1982, when it was banned by President Bartlett Giamatti.

Comments

  • Justin

    From my observations, the police handled this situation unbelievably well, making sure no one got hurt and controlling the overwhelming mob. I can’t imagine their confusion but truly did handle things very responsibly from what I saw.

  • Elm City

    And yet these are the same students who will incessantly whine about traffic safety around campus. I was stuck in this mob for 15 minutes with two students actually crawing across my hood, then giving me the finger. Thanks for yet another classy Yale “it’s all about us” episode on the streets on New Haven.

  • KB

    Agree with #2. My 2-year-old and I had the misfortune to be stuck in a car on Elm. My sideview mirror was nearly taken off in the Pamplona-like stampede. It’s lucky nobody was seriously injured. This needs to be managed better next time.

  • CC11

    I was incredibly proud of the police. They handled it beautifully, helping cars get through without any crazy crackdowns. It seemed like most of the students didn’t even realize they were there aside from the sirens. Well done, YPD!