Message from Chief Perrotti: I’m retiring.
Yale Police Department Chief James A. Perrotti will retire at the end of June, he told his colleagues Thursday afternoon. Perrotti has spent 37 years as a YPD officer, the last 12 as chief. In that time, he has experienced success and faced challenges including the murders of two Yale students. Yale administrators said Perrotti’s tenure has transformed the Department and the University, and as a whole has drastically improved the technology, training and professionalism of the YPD.
“It’s been a long time,” Perrotti said in an interview Thursday night. “I’m lucky I get to choose the time when I go out, and I’m going out with a smile.”
Perrotti is the second Yale security official to retire in the last few months. The director of Yale Security, an unarmed force that assists the YPD, retired at the end of last year as part of the organization’s restructuring, and former New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz has taken over Security operations.
Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees campus security, said the University will release plans for finding Perrotti’s successor in the next few weeks. She declined to comment on Ortiz’s prospects to become the new police chief.
University President Richard Levin said Perrotti has been an “exceptionally able chief and a great servant of the University.” Levin said news about the next chief will be forthcoming.
This summer, Perrotti said, he has plans to take the longest vacation since he began his career — traveling across New England, relaxing and riding his bicycle. He has already been approached about other jobs, he said, but will not consider any until September.
Administrators said Perrotti has turned down higher-paying security jobs in the private sector many times while at Yale. Highsmith said Perrotti has transformed the YPD into the professional police force it is today.
“He’s just one of the best,” she said. “His influence will be felt here for years and years to come.”
Perrotti joined the YPD in 1973, when Yale police officers did not wear uniforms. Even when they started in the late 1970s, the uniforms were almost identical to the ones worn by bus drivers at the time, Perrotti said.
“They were so embarrassed that they tried to hide themselves during the day,” Highsmith said. It was almost as if the University did not want them to look like police, Perrotti said.
Today, it is hard to distinguish between YPD and New Haven police officers because their uniforms, vehicles, tactics and policing strategies are so similar, in large part due to Perrotti’s efforts, said University Secretary Linda Lorimer.
In the early 1990s, at the time when New Haven was averaging 30 murders a year, University President Richard Levin made improving safety at Yale a priority, and Perrotti took charge of the effort in the past decade.
Yale administrators chose Perrotti, then assistant chief, to take over the department in 1998, after performing a national search, said Highsmith, who was part of the hiring process.
Once in charge, Perrotti streamlined the organization. He also encouraged officers to expand their skill sets from simple physical security into areas such as forensics and bomb detection. Perrotti himself was the first YPD officer to have graduated from the National Academy of the FBI. The experience, he said, was the highlight of his career.
Reflecting on his time at Yale, Perrotti said he is proud of a number of his accomplishments, including reducing campus crime and bringing the YPD to a new state-of-the-art facility on Ashmun Street.
When Perrotti arrived at the YPD, it was based in the basement of Welch Hall on Old Campus. It later moved to a cramped three-story building on Sachem Street that was not much better. But five years ago, the YPD finally moved into its current home.
Perrotti’s push to make the YPD a professional and fully investigative police force won him many friends in the region’s local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, Highsmith said. Perrotti said having good rapport with colleagues in other law enforcement agencies was important for dealing with crises.
“An emergency is the wrong time to meet your colleagues,” Perrotti said. “You need to have a working relationship long before that.”
But within a month of becoming police chief, an emergency is what he had: Suzanne Jovin ’99 was murdered, and the case is still unsolved. Perrotti said dealing with previous tragedies such as the shooting death of Christian Prince ’93 in 1991 prepared him for working effectively in highly stressful situations.
Then just this year, the murder of student Annie Le GRD ’13 rocked the University, and Perrotti again had to oversee the murder investigation of a person it was his job to protect.
“Those are the kind of things that stay with you,” he said. “They impact you literally forever. The possibility of violence against any member of our community is what still keeps me awake at night.”
Perrotti, who colleagues said is modest to a fault, stressed that none of his successes would have been possible without the support of the University and of men and women of the YPD.
The chief said he had a final message for Yale Students: “I have been honored and privileged to serve you.”
Nora Caplan-Bricker contributed reporting.
Correction: March 26, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the average number of murders in New Haven in the 1990s. It was about 30 a year, not 40.