The police stormed the building shortly after 12:45 a.m. The lights came on and the music cut out as between 10 and 15 officers — two of them clad in blue SWAT gear and carrying M-4 rifles — filed into Elevate Lounge. While they climbed the stairs to the second-floor nightclub, students there for the annual Morse- Stiles Screw rushed to get out. Some students shoved and pushed past offi- cers in a bid to escape the venue before the New Haven Police Department and Liquor Control Commission began their inspection.
Officers fanned out around the venue, instructing students at the club to sit on the floor so that the police- men could check their identifications. Initial compliance was mixed — some of the 250-odd students, possibly intoxicated, openly defied explicit police commands by standing, talking loudly, and using their phones to text or re- cord the scene in front of them. In response, students say, officers barked at them: “Sit the fuck down!” — “Take out your fucking IDs!” — “Shut the fuck up!” — “Put your fucking phones away!” Later, the police denied using any vulgar or explicit language.
Within several minutes, the majority of students remaining at Elevate were seated and complying with police identification checks. But a few persisted in disobeying the officers’ orders — some repeatedly took out their phones after receiving instructions not to do so, and others began singing a medley of Journey songs and tracks from Mulan. The police employed several confrontational tactics to stop the singing and phone usage, including threats of arrest.
By 1:20 a.m., many students had been assembled in a single-file line for identification inspection that students say was slow-moving and required multiple checks before they were per- mitted to leave. Still, several continued to refuse to comply with instructions, officers reported. Police said two students in particular — Zachary Fuhrer ’11 and Jordan Jefferson ’14 — did not heed the multiple instructions from Assistant Chief Ariel Melendez and one of the SWAT officers, Lt. Thaddeus Reddish, to put away their cell phones. Officers reported that Jefferson was using abusive language — “Fuck this, fuck this guy. Who does this guy fucking think he is? This is bullshit” — toward Reddish; students said both parties ex- changed profanities.
Officers instructed Fuhrer to sit on the floor, then placed his cell phone on the bar. After Jefferson continued to resist police commands — officers reported he said he didn’t “give a fuck” and “I go to Yale” — he too was taken and seated near Fuhrer, away from the crowd.
At this stage, Liquor Control Com- mission agents had largely finished checking identification and permitted students to exit the club. As students passed Jefferson on the way out, he tried to make conversation with several of them; a student passing by said he responded to threats of arrest with “so put handcuffs on me then,” and police said he told fellow students that “nothing’s gonna happen with this bullshit.”
But something did happen. Officers told Jefferson to stand, and one officer, Matt Abbate, grabbed his shoulders to help him up. Abbate then took out his handcuffs and began to arrest Jefferson. With one handcuff placed on his wrist, Jefferson tightened up, stiffened his shoulders, and stepped forward slightly, students reported. Police interpreted this movement as “teasing” and said Jefferson pushed Abbate’s hand away.
That’s when Abbate took out his Taser and attempted to stun Jefferson.
Jefferson slapped the cartridge from Abbate’s hand and struck both Abbate and Reddish with his forearm, police said. Abbate grabbed Jefferson’s right wrist again and Tasered him in the right shoulder. Jefferson struggled free and staggered toward the dance floor. Five or six other officers rushed toward Jefferson and forced him to the ground. Students reported that the officers punched and kicked Jefferson, yelled “gimme your fucking hands,” and Tasered him four more times before successfully handcuffing him.
While two officers escorted Jefferson out, one officer turned to the students around him and shouted, “Anybody else?” Another said, “Who’s next?”
The New Haven Police Department’s October 2, 2010 raid at Elevate Lounge — reconstructed here from the department’s February 2011 Internal Affairs report on the incident, which included the testimony of 25 students and 18 police officers, and from several dozen inter- views with students conducted by the News in the days following the bust — was an “aberration,” then-Chief Frank Limon told the News last March.
“There was poor leadership and poor planning, and we lost control of the inspection,” Limon said. “The department has learned some lessons from this.”
But the raid, which took place as part of the downtown violence-reduction initiative “Operation Nightlife,” also marked a low point in police-student interactions in the Elm City. The widely divergent accounts of the incident, for instance, testified to a divide between student and police perceptions of law enforcement: while over 30 students said officers used profanity during the bust, not one officer said they used expletives. While students tried to use their phones — legal under state law and now explicitly addressed by the NHPD in their “Video Recording of Police Activity” policy — officers told them to put them away, of- ten in a confrontational tone. While a student was Tasered five times, Limon stood on the street outside the club.
Five students — four of them Yalies — were arrested during the raid: Alfredo Molinas ’11, Fuhrer, Steven Winter ’11, then-Harvard senior Seth Bannon, and Jefferson. While Jefferson faced three felony accounts of assaulting an officer, the other four students were charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with a police officer, or criminal trespass. The charges against all five students were dropped. The case against Jefferson was the last to be dropped, in November.
“[This incident] really resulted from police overreacting to a misunderstanding of the situation, and un- fortunately my client and others were caught in the middle of it,” William Dow ’63, Jefferson’s New Haven-based lawyer, told the News in November. “The whole incident never should have happened — it was a question of extremely poor judgment exercised by law enforcement.”
In the wake of the botched raid, the NHPD has undergone substantial changes. Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. called Melendez’s decision to send the SWAT team into Elevate a “mistake,” and the assistant chief resigned within three months of the bust. (He was also under investigation for another case of alleged misconduct.) Limon abruptly announced his resignation October 17, following a resounding no-confidence vote from the NHPD Union last March. Then, DeStefano appointed Dean Esserman to take over the reins of the department in November. From the outset, Esserman promised to take the department in a “new direction,” one that emphasizes a community-based approach to policing. “My marching orders are firm: address the violence and connect to the community,” he said at the October 18 City Hall press conference announcing his appointment.
Esserman’s approach to policing differs markedly from his predecessor. Limon adopted strategies like “Operation Nightlife” that recalled policing tactics from the 1980s, when police took a militant approach to engaging with the public, and the relationship between cops and the community was often contentious In contrast, Esserman is a “living embodiment” of the community-policing model, a man who understands that policing is more effective when conducted in tandem with community involvement, said William Bratton, who headed the LAPD and NYPD and has mentored Esserman since the two worked together in the New York City Transit Police. This policing strategy is particularly designed to combat violent crime — New Haven’s 34 homicides last year were the most the city had seen in 20 years. But it could also have a positive side effect for police-student relations.
“It would be an understatement to say this chief is trying to foster a relationship with the community and students, who are an important part of the population,” says NHPD spokesman David Hartman. “But they’ll never be afforded more favors from the police department because of their being Yale students.”
Hartman describes the central piece of Esserman’s policing philosophy as reaching out to every citizen in New Haven and saying, “This is your police department, and this is what we expect of you and what you should expect of us.” By moving officers from their desks and cars and putting them on walking beats in the city’s neighborhoods, community policing helps bridge any “disconnect” between the public and the police, Hartman ex- plains. The new strategy is “gentler [and] more engaging” with community members so that cops and citizens “feel more comfortable working with each other,” says Bishop Theodore Brooks, a former member of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Citywide, Esserman is implementing an ambitious strategic vision that will restructure and strengthen the NHPD, swelling its ranks to 467 officers as budgeted by year’s end and 497 within three years. This growth will boost the NHPD’s patrol units, which will allow the department to better execute its community policing initiatives.
Likewise, Esserman has signaled his engagement with the Yale community, said University President Richard Levin. “I’m a huge fan of Dean Esserman,” Levin says. “I think the general philosophy that he represents can only be good for students, since he’s been engaging the communities he’s served for his whole career.” Already, Esserman is teaching a Law School clinic on “Innovations in Policing” with Professor James Forman Jr. LAW ‘92, and Yale College Dean Mary Miller said her office was working on details for a potential residential college seminar taught by Esserman. Esserman says he is “very much looking forward” to the class — which Miller indicated would likely focus on community policing theory — and the opportunity to interact with students in the classroom. And Esserman has also met with on-campus groups, including the Dwight Hall Urban Fellows Program, the Yale Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy, and Middle- man.
“What I expect with the ongoing relationships this new chief will forge is that, most definitely, we won’t see police brutality and they’ll interact better with civilians and students,” says Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate, who chairs the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee and serves as a facilitator for Yale’s unions.
While the NHPD seeks to re- vive its community policing strategies first adopted in the early 1990s, the Yale Police Department (YPD) has consistently maintained a community-based approach since it was first founded in 1894, ac- cording to Assistant Chief Michael Pat- ten. After several riots took place on or around campus in the early 1890s, the NHPD assigned two officers to police the Yale area with the specific goal of improving relations between students and the police. Student distrust of local law enforcement was high, so the two officers had to work to establish relationships and trust on campus before they could begin to effectively police the community. The department has kept this in mind over the years as it has expanded and be- come more sophisticated in its policing, Patten said at a YPD Citizen’s Po- lice Academy session at their Ashmun Street headquarters last month.
“We believe in partnering with all members of the community and realize community members and police officers share responsibility for pro- viding a safe environment and com- munity safety is best enhanced and ensured when all work together,” Pat- ten says. “We believe in the value of community understanding of the police and their role and recognize the community has a voice in how police services are provided.”
The YPD has renewed its community policing efforts in recent months, as Chief Ronnell Higgins highlighted in a February email to the Yale community. The YPD maintains foot patrols around campus and on Wall Street, Howe Street, Edgewood Avenue, and Park Street because “active patrolling deters crime,” he explained.
For the YPD, community policing does not just involve proactive and engaged patrols and enforcement. It also involves an active commitment to building police-student relations so that all parties feel like they are on the “same team,” Patten says. As part of this effort, YPD leader- ship meets with student groups such as the Freshman Counselors and Walden Peer Advisors, as well as Greek organizations and athletes. Higgins high- lighted the Yale College Dean’s Office, which includes the YPD in discussions related to student events or concerns, and Yale Athletics as two partners who help facilitate student-police interaction. For instance, Higgins says he and Patten meet with members of the Yale Football Team during summer camp as part of an outreach program begun years ago. “Both Assistant Chief Patten and I are former student-athletes, and we’re also coaches. We talk to student- athletes about making good decisions both on and off the field,” Higgins says.
In all, the YPD and members of the Yale administration held more than 50 meetings with student and staff groups in 2011 about public safety and policing, says Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner, who oversees the University’s policing operations.
But even as local and campus police seek to strengthen relationships with students and the
community at large, interviews with over 20 students on Old Campus, fraternity brothers, and freshman counselors reveal a widespread perception on campus of a “crackdown” against underage student alcohol-consumption in the past several months. A critical essay by Dana Glaser ’13 that appeared in the Magazine in February echoes the views of many students, who can recount several broken-up parties and a pattern of police activity new to them during their time at Yale. She tells a story of a police raid of an off-campus party that’s similar to other stories recounted in interviews:
The officer asked whose room it was, and the called-for individual stepped forward. The rest of us assumed the silence of school children in penance. Is this your room? he asked the host again. Yes, sir. Is this your alcohol? Yes, sir. How old are you? Twenty, sir. No, sir, not everyone, sir. Sorry, sir. Yes, sir, we will sir, we’ll do it right away sir…. Another officer proceeded with the business of teaching us a lesson, collecting IDs and calling us forward one by one to take down information…. [The officer at the door] smiled and informed us that ‘this’ would be happening a lot more often now.
Glaser’s account matches a widespread perception on campus of an up- tick in police activity. “Maybe it’s just because I’m back on Old Campus this year, but I’ve certainly seen and heard of the police appearing at more par- ties both on and off-campus,” says one freshman counselor who asked to re- main anonymous because of his position on campus. “The impression I get from my freshmen is that they’ve experienced the same thing, that they’re a bit scared of police just showing up the next time they go out.”
Whether or not this crackdown is an actual reality is less clear. In a March 27 interview with the News, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry denied that University administration or the YPD were conducting a crackdown on underage drinking, and the data doesn’t support the perception of a widespread crackdown. An analysis of the YPD crime logs — posted online daily, in compliance with the reporting requirements of the Federal Department of Education’s Clery Act — conducted by the News found that the YPD registered 25 “possession of alcohol by a minor” and “other liquor offenses” in January, 26 in February, and 10 in March. This data does not correspond with widespread student reports of citations — students interviewed recalled more incidents than the YPD has documented in their activities, calling into question their perception of a crackdown — and is roughly on par with past data.
Part of the reason for this misperception may be that while the YPD seeks to enforce the laws, that enforcement may routinely not align with student interests. “When a student is the victim of a crime, or is transported to Yale Health for alcohol poisoning, he or she tends to be grateful that the Yale Police are there quickly, taking care of the issue,” Lindner says. “However, when students are the ones breaking the law, they tend to be less appreciative of YPD’s role in enforcing the law. Yale Police are extremely aware of the consequences of overdosing on alcohol or drugs, and they’ve seen students get into some terrible situations, so it’s not a matter to be taken lightly.”
Higgins echoed those sentiments when he explained his department’s policy on enforcement to me last month. Officers respond to calls or patrol the campus, often in specific geo- graphical areas of responsibility, but do not specifically investigate or crack down on behavior unless they either receive reports of incidents or see or hear something that might indicate the breaking of the law. Officers exercise their professional judgment on how to proceed in a given situation based on “experience, training, the law, department policy, and the circumstances presented,” Higgins explained.
Though Higgins said that students do sometimes seek his department’s advice when planning an event, and that the YPD is happy to help to ensure a successful and safe event, the police do not keep abreast of all student par- ties and events. As such, when police arrive at events and parties both on and off-campus, it is often in response to complaints of noise or unruly behaviors. In addition, Hartman says the NHPD and YPD share information on a daily basis about events they learn about, ranging from “a huge keg party on Lake Place to a hockey game with thousands of people.” While the YPD typically handles anything on University property or nearby, the NHPD is routinely called out to deal with cases at off-campus addresses or cases where there might be a “large number of underage drinkers,” Hartman explained.
“We don’t plan any types of ‘raids,’ but we do respond if we are called about an issue, or if we see something problematic when patrolling,” Higgins said. “Sometimes, enforcement is necessary, which can run the gamut from a warning or a citation to an arrest, de- pending on the severity of the crime. We have seen all types of incidents, including, unfortunately, overdoses, alcohol poisoning, and even deaths.”
The YPD has deployed more foot patrols around campus as part of its community policing efforts to be “more visible and active” within Yale, Higgins says. By being “‘out and about,’ we are going to know more about what’s going on,” he explained, adding that this can better position them to “respond appropriately to enforce the law.”
This has a positive effect in “detecting and deterring violent, property, and quality of life crimes,” he says. Based on 2010 crime data — the latest to be released by the University, submitted to the government in accordance with the Clery Act — Yale saw an 11 percent drop in crime on campus during that school year. And the University sees comparable or better crime rates than its peer institutions on a per-student basis. According to the most recent data available, Harvard University saw roughly 4.6 crimes against persons per 1000 students — double Yale’s rate of approximately 2.3 crimes against per- sons per 1000 students — while the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia had rates of 3.3 per 1000 and 1.9 per 1000, respectively.
For students, however, the heightened patrols that have improved campus safety come with their own cost. More officers on the streets may mean police are more likely to spot cases of underage drinking or other illegal activities. This tension is most evident in the relationship between police and Yale’s fraternities. An officer of Sigma Phi Epsilon, who asked to remain anonymous so as to not jeopardize relations with the police, said he had noticed increased police activity on High Street. “This semester there’s been more of a crackdown, which was kind of a surprise to us,” the officer says. “Before police would come and shut our par- ties down, but now they are giving citations and it seems like a trend across campus.”
Sig Ep has been raided twice this semester and several students received citations, while neighbors Sigma Alpha Epsilon were raided once after miscommunication led police to believe a student who was taken to Yale Health had been injured at the house. Several other brothers of Sig Ep and SAE, who were not authorized to speak on behalf of their fraternities, said they had noticed an uptick of enforcement in the wake of the fatal Harvard-Yale tailgate accident last November, in which a U-Haul hit and killed a 30-year-old Massachusetts woman.
In the past several months, the University has implemented several changes to the way it deals with tailgating and fraternities. Yale announced new tailgating regulations in January that ban kegs and oversized vehicles, establish a vehicle-free tailgating zone, and require all attendees to leave the student tailgating area by kickoff. Then, in March, the University announced it would ban freshman from rushing Greek organizations in the fall, and administrators also discussed a policy that would prohibit freshmen from attending Greek- sponsored off-campus events during the fall. Greek officers interviewed by the
News after the policy announcements said the University should communicate more readily with their groups in devising such policy. In a similar vein, improved communication between police and fraternity officers as well as greater familiarity between the two would help improve cop-student relations, the Sig Ep officer says.
Both Brian Ruwe ’13 and Pat Dolan ’13, the presidents of SAE and Sig Ep, respectively, said they have made efforts to strengthen relationships with the police. Both said that the YPD reached out to them at the start of the semester, and they communicate with the officer on beat patrol around High Street, Adam Marong, to give him a heads-up about parties and resolve any issues that may arise.
Ruwe says that because of their cooperation with the police, SAE has not had any parties shut down under his leadership or under the leadership of former president and current vice-president Ben Singleton ’13. That fact is “remarkable” given the number of social events held at the fraternity house, he says, and may be attributable to a new policy of having pledges manning the door to check identification — complying with Connecticut’s Underage Drinking Law requiring “reasonable efforts to halt [underage] possession” of alcohol.
Still, Ruwe admitted that it can be “stressful” as a fraternity president to face liability for injuries that may take place in his fraternity’s house and that he works hard to strengthen relations with police. To that end, he also decided to attend the YPD’s Citizen’s Police Academy to “better get to know the YPD and its officers,” an effort Higgins said was very welcome.
At a March 20 class at the Citizen’s Police Academy — open to students and members of the local community — the mix of participants is eclectic. Seated in the room is former University Registrar Jill Carlton, Ruwe, another SAE brother, five other undergraduates and a similar number of graduate students, and Ward 24 Alderwoman Evette Hamilton. The program, held at the YPD’s Rose Center headquarters on Ashmun Street, exemplifies the new era of police-community interaction, which emphasizes engagement and information-sharing. At the session, the YPD leadership discuss the history, operations, and capabilities of the department in an accessible manner.
Assistant Chief Patten introduces Eli, the bomb squad’s black Labrador. With two secondary explosives planted around the room, Eli is led around the perimeter to sniff them out, giving attendees a first-hand look at how the YPD secures locations when high profile guests visit campus. Once he is done finding potential bombs, Eli is fed a doggie-treat by his trainer and left to roam free around the room as attendees eagerly pet him. The class is not so much about learning the technical side of the YPD as it is about demonstrating the human side of the department and engaging community members.
Around the corner from the YPD’s headquarters, fraternity brothers walking to the Alpha Delta Phi and Delta Kappa Epsilon houses on Lake Place often en- counter patrol cars returning to base. But brothers in both fraternities interviewed said they had not noticed more police activity than in previous years. “At the beginning of the year, it felt like there was maybe more of a police presence then there has been at the past, but I always felt that was what would come along with the start of the new year, when police want to establish some control,” says ADPhi president Jamey Silveira ‘13.
At the start of the semester, Silveira says he “made a point” to introduce himself to the officers he saw around the house, so he could establish rapport and a mutually beneficial relationship where police could be confident “we could handle our parties and not let them go out of control, and [we] could trust them to not come knocking all the time.” Silveira says he disagreed “with the idea that police are out to get us,” explaining that as a fraternity leader, he didn’t feel that police drove around “with the intent of establishing probable cause and coming in to break up parties.” Rather, police served an important role in ensuring public safety by clearing people from the front of the fraternity house or the middle of the road, and ensuring people “aren’t doing anything stupid outside.”
This balance between respect for public safety and student autonomy is what students and police should work to improve, said Wingate, the chair of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee. “Parties are part of the student culture, no one’s faulting that, but if both sides work better to communicate it’ll create a better environment and help resolve any issues,” Wingate says.
Increased communication and interaction is the central tenet of the community policing strategies emphasized by both the NHPD and YPD in the past year. While this type of policing, which emphasizes community engagement and proactive policing over traditional response and enforcement, may be potent in tamping down violent crime, it also provides the foundation for strengthened student- police relations.
Silveira says, “With more open interaction, from my point of view, then this perception that there’s an inherent conflict between police and students doesn’t have to be the case at all.”