Seven New Haven and Yale police officers filed into the Berkeley College common room Monday evening to discuss everything from weapon-firing technique to the police internal affairs process.
Along with over 40 Yale students, the officers met over pizza for a “police study break” organized by the Yale College Council and police officials including Chief Frank Limon, YCC Treasurer Brandon Levin ’13 said. The study break, which began at 5:30 p.m., lasted nearly an hour and saw students and police amicably mixing in a social setting for the first time since the Oct. 2 raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate, which resulted in several student arrests and claims of police brutality.
Instead of brandishing weapons, tasers or flashlights as they came into a room full of Yale students, the officers came bearing enough pizza for 50 people and the desire to come together with students, said Lt. Rebecca Sweeney, the NHPD downtown district manager.
“I think [the study break] went well,” she said, “I just wish that I had brought more pizza.”
Many of the students at the event were either associated with the YCC or had been at the Morse-Stiles Screw, and they discussed both broad and specific topics with the officers.
Patrol Division Captain Joann Peterson, who has been on the NHPD for 20 years, asked one group of students, “What do you think of handgun laws?” and spoke about the dangers of random gunfire when a shooter is not sufficiently trained.
After explaining to the group that handguns are not very difficult to purchase in Connecticut, she told them to “be cognizant of [their] surroundings” and to “make [themselves] less of a victim.”
Aside from this discussion, officers were asked probing questions about their time on the force.
Sweeney said that she was surprised by how little mention she heard of the Oct. 2 raid. Instead, she said, she was asked about why she wanted to become a police officer and what it was like to be a woman on the force. But she admitted that this study break would not have occurred without the tensions resulting from the raid.
“I wish it didn’t take an incident like Elevate to bring us all together,” she said. “But it happened, so we’re just going to move on.”
The topic of Elevate did come up at several points in the evening. Several students asked Peterson, who used to run the NHPD internal affairs department, about the process of evaluation for the over 30 complaints that students filed after the raid.
She told the group that Chief Limon is the only person who can reprimand an officer with up to 15 days of suspension, and that anything in excess of that punishment must be decided by the Board of Police Commissioners.
Peterson also explained her take on the use of cell phones during a raid. Although she acknowledged that students had every right to document the situation, she said that a “shiny metallic object that fits in your hand” could be seen as a threat by an officer.
Representatives from the YPD were also present at the study break to help facilitate, said YPD Lt. Joe Vitale. He said that the event was important to open up lines of discussion between Yale community members and police.
“There’s always an open dialogue between officers and students,” he said. “They have to know they can come to us if they want to talk.”
Christine Sandy GRD ’93, an officer for the YPD, said that although she had never had a negative interaction with a Yale student, she thinks that student-police interactions are contentious about half the time.
YCC President Jeff Gordon ’12 said that he believed the study break went well and that it was a “humanizing situation for both sides.”
He said that he spoke with both students and officers who appreciated getting to meet face-to-face, and that events like this are part of the job for a department with community policing aspirations such as the NHPD. He added that the officers were proud to have students know their names and specifically requested that those they met say hello next time they see each other.
The trial date for the five students arrested during the Elevate raid is set for Tuesday afternoon.