“You’re going to Yale? Do you want to get mugged?”
Chances are if you’ve decided to go to college in the Elm City you’ve heard more than a few such references to New Haven’s less-than-stellar reputation and probably received your fair share of warnings about your safety over the next four years.
But with crime rates dropping dramatically and improvements in campus security over the past ten years, police say the campus is safe — and many students say their initial fears about New Haven’s safety are a thing of the past. In fact, many students said they are more worried about the safety of their laptops than themselves.
“I think people exaggerate how bad New Haven is,” said Daniel Guss ’01, who noted he has never felt unsafe on campus. “Even in the four years I’ve been here, I’ve seen it improve.”
Those improvements showcase a steadily declining crime rate over the last 10 years, including a 21 percent decrease in reported crimes citywide last year and a 50 percent drop in crime since 1999, according to the city’s Uniform Crime Report.
Yale’s own crime statistics are similarly encouraging. Crime dropped 14 percent from 1999 to 2000, continuing a trend that began in the early 1990s.
“We want to try to make [it] everyone’s perception that this is a secure environment, this is a safe place to go to school,” said Yale Police Chief James Perrotti, the head of the University’s police force of about 80 officers. “It’s going to take continual maintenance.”
And beyond statistics, many students said they began to feel comfortable just by getting used to the campus.
“I was expecting New Haven to be dangerous and that I wouldn’t be able to walk anywhere at night,” said Emma Pollack-Pelzner ’04. “And I still wouldn’t walk anywhere, but I would walk between colleges at night. Any time I’m on campus I feel really, really safe.”
Many students cite blue phones, which can be found throughout campus and feature red buttons that automatically alert police, and the number of people frequently around as Yale security features that allow them not to worry about their own safety.
Students say they feel less safe farther away from campus and caution against venturing too far off campus at night. But students and police say the real thing to remember is to use good judgment in an urban environment.
“I think the biggest thing is to use common sense,” Guss said. “Obviously there are areas of New Haven that you wouldn’t walk to at night, like in any urban setting.”
Some Yalies from rural areas say their initial impressions of New Haven were eased after getting used to life in a city.
“Coming from a small town, where I never even had to think about bad things happening, and going to a city, I thought it might be kind of scary,” said Laura Runnels ’04, who grew up in Laurel, Mississippi. “At the beginning, I didn’t know my way around campus and I made my roommate walk with me. After the first two weeks I thought, ‘Screw this, I’m safe.'”
Among crimes more often on students’ minds, many say, are thefts, particularly of laptop computers. According to Yale Police statistics, petty theft is by far the most common crime on campus.
Last fall, a thief was caught stealing laptop computers. Many students lock their computers, even if they leave their room doors locked.
“The petty stuff is what happens,” said Guss, who said he knew people who had had laptops stolen. “That’s always a risk, but I don’t think it’s hard to avoid. The thing is people leave their doors open.”
Students have gotten away with less caution, although Perrotti has advised against it. Nick Brown ’03 said he once left a backpack — full of books, juggling equipment and some cash — unattended for two days on Old Campus.
“Nothing happened to it but rain,” Brown said. “Students here are very honest with very few exceptions, and the community itself is not bad at all. And there’s security personnel everywhere all the time. I’m pretty content with campus safety.”