Bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when they come for you? The Yale University Police Department is tucked away on the far end of campus in a weathered old house on Sachem St., a block past the hockey rink. It’s a strange place; inside there is a short hallway, with cramped, cluttered offices, but the feel is run-down and residential — imagine if a police station moved into off-campus housing on Edgewood. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was pretty quiet.
I checked in with the secretary. I’m here to ride with Sgt. Jay Jones for his shift, to patrol all around the mean streets of New Haven — well, the mean streets immediately surrounding the Yale campus, anyway. The Yale University Police have all the jurisdiction of city cops, but their beats cover only the Yale area, and they overlap with both the New Haven police and Yale security.
The secretary sent me outside just as Jones pulled up in the driveway. He’s a tall guy, middle-aged, and has his jaw clenched and his hair cut extremely short so that he looks kind of like Bruce Willis. He stepped out of the car. “Hop in,” he said.
The inside was packed with gadgetry, each part of which he pointed out and explained to me. The large laptop on the dashboard looks up license plates and criminal histories via a digital cell phone connection, the switches to his right work all the lights, and then pointed with pride to a small TV screen just above the windshield. “This monitor up here is connected to a camera on the hood of the car,” Jones said. “It records whenever I put the siren on, and then we get everything on tape.”
“Oh, like on ‘Cops’?” I said.
“Yeah! Exactly like ‘Cops’!” He stepped on the gas, and we took to the streets. We headed down Prospect towards Woolsey. “So–” he said as we slowed down to a stoplight. “When an officer starts his shift he’ll do his beat — a territory of about five to eight blocks — and check it out, make sure everything’s OK, and then usually go get a coffee. I’m not a coffee man myself, though.”
“And after that?” I asked. Each shift is eight hours.
“Maybe do the beat again. Stuff comes up sometimes.”
We drove around for a few more minutes, chatting about random things: I’m from Maine, Jones likes hunting a lot, I’m bummed about the Red Sox (still), Jones likes hunting a lot.
The University Police have a peculiarly close relationship with the homeless downtown. Jones knows most of them personally. At one point we pull over on Chapel next to the Green, where a white man with long, scraggly hair is sitting against the wall with a small cup for spare change.
“Cruz,” Jones said. “Come ‘ere.”
“Cruz, what are you doing?”
“I was just, trying to get something to eat.”
“Cruz, you know there’s free food at the church right over there.”
“I missed it.”
“Cruz, it hasn’t started yet. Are you feeling OK? Do you need to go back to the hospital?”
“Cruz, don’t get too close to the car. Just go over to the church”
“That’s the worst I’ve seen him in a while,” Jones said, afterwards, driving away. “In this city you can get free food, free housing, and free clothing every day. The only reason people are out here are because of drugs or mental illness. Cruz is just severely crazy. You can usually tell on the street who’s addicted to crack — they are the extremely, extremely thin ones.”
“A long time ago the Shakespeare Lady weighed about 300 pounds,” Jones added, “and she didn’t suddenly get thin because of the Atkins Diet.” We rounded the corner. “We discovered the flower lady with a crack pipe last year. I don’t know how she or her friend keeps the weight on.”
Jones had been telling me how the police arrest potential suspects when there was finally some action.
“If you think someone might be suspicious, there are a lot of little infractions you can pull them over for, and often, one thing leads to another.” Suddenly Jones’ eyes darted up. “Like look at that car.” He pointed at a beat-up Buick in front of us at the stoplight. “See the license plate in the back window? You’re not supposed to have a license plate in the back window. Let’s call it in.” He picked up the radio and read the plate number — it came back from Dispatch (a tiny room located in Phelps gate) as belonging to a red Toyota Tercel. But we were looking at a navy blue Buick! Jones threw the lights on. “Let’s roll,” I said. After a brief chase (the time it took for the car to slow down and pull over to the side of the road), we pulled the car over. Inside was a Hispanic woman with her mom.
“Stay in the car.” Jones ordered. He jumped out, and started talking to the woman. Soon another squad car pulled up behind us, and that cop stepped out to join him. Both cars had their lights flashing, surrounding the Buick. Then a New Haven cop car pulled up, and he got out of the car. Then a third University car pulled up. It’s SOP (“standard operating procedure”) to have two officers on the scene for a pull-over, as a safety measure. The New Haven cop showed up because he wanted to help or was bored. A third University police car pulled up to relieve our car, so we could continue the ride-along. Now there were four squad cars surrounding the Buick, lights all flashing.
It turned out the woman just hadn’t registered her car when she bought it, and had used her plates from the old one. But with all the cop cars around, it looked like it was some sort of huge drug bust. Then Jones jumped back in the car.
“They’re gonna write her the ticket. I usually don’t football a case like this,” referring to the fact we were leaving the other officers to handle the case, “but we’ve got to continue our ride-along.”
We drove over to the substation, and took a break. Still not too much going on. Tuesdays, I guess, are pretty quiet.
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