The last few days have been tough for our community. We have heard from students who have had their perceptions of the New Haven community radically altered by the alleged actions of a few members of the New Haven Police Department. We have heard from business owners who took a chance on downtown New Haven — and experienced success — only to have the much acclaimed revival face new challenges. We have heard from residents of the City, and top City officials, who want to see a thriving community in the heart of the city that is safe for all New Haven residents. Now is the time for all of us to come together and work towards building a stronger, safer New Haven.
It’s no secret that downtown has seen its share of violence lately. The recent shooting that occurred downtown called our community’s attention to this larger pattern, but it was hardly the first instance of violence plaguing our community. And with this activity occurring downtown, it is easy to understand why authorities would want to strengthen enforcement with zero-tolerance policies in the entertainment district. But without question, Operation Nightlife has damaged the public trust, on our campus and elsewhere, that is crucial to building safe communities.
Police are always more effective when they can rely upon the willing cooperation of community members. That trust requires effort from both sides. It needs community partners who are willing to come forward with information that can help police solve crimes. And it must have police officers who enter difficult situations and begin their work by defusing tensions and listening to the people whom they serve. That can happen in our community, even if accounts of the events at Elevate Lounge cast doubt on that process.
Community management teams provide opportunities for citizens to work together with officers of the New Haven Police Department, both downtown and in every neighborhood in New Haven. These face-to-face interactions are integral in building the trust that is so fragile in our communities. In building contacts and teaching our citizens, the NHPD is better and more effective in doing their job. In August, our own Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team, along with the Wooster Square Blockwatch, celebrated National Night Out at the substation on the Green with local officers. Over 60 residents turned out that evening to meet with our public servants, thank them and learn from their experiences on how to build stronger, safer neighborhoods.
We don’t want to paint an overly optimistic picture. We will not solve crime in this city and we will not rid the police department of its challenges simply by joining management teams. We also need to build a public trust through a continued dialogue about how officers should interact with the communities that they serve. That requires us to come forward with our stories, and it requires us to have these discussions with police officers who have experiences from which we can all learn. And certainly for the members of our campus community, having an effective dialogue on that subject requires us to view this weekend’s events within the larger context of the entire city.
Our community will have a chance to heal when we all step forward, tell our stories and create a transparent dialogue of the current state of affairs. But as we seek to continue the healing process and strengthen the city that we all share, we must recognize that we are interdependent. There are no such things as the Yale and New Haven communities that exist independent of each other. A safe New Haven requires a safe downtown and safe neighborhoods all across our community. That process begins by getting involved. Tell your stories and listen to those stories told by your fellow New Haven residents, both on campus and across the city.