Freshmen had barely said goodbye to their parents when they received an e-mail last week that likely confirmed their worst fears about New Haven: A student had been shot in the hand in a robbery, while another group of students was mugged at gunpoint just off campus. For some members of the Class of 2009, amidst the confusion of Camp Yale was an unwelcome question: Is it safe for me to walk around New Haven?
In principle, the e-mail that followed these incidents — like others sent by Yale when crime occurs around campus — struck the right notes. It promised that patrols were being increased in the areas where the robberies occurred. It repeated the numbers for the 2-WALK escorts and the mini-bus that every freshmen learns within hours of arriving on campus.
And last week’s crimes notwithstanding, the reality is that with a little bit of common sense, it isn’t very hard to stay safe in New Haven. Take advantage of Yale’s security resources when you need them and don’t walk alone at night, and you are likely to steer clear of danger. And within Yale’s central campus, the visible presence of University Police and blue phones means students have little reason to fear going out on a Saturday night.
Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling of general unease created by crimes like last week’s robberies. We want to believe that the community we live in — a community that stretches beyond the key-card scanners of central campus to the city streets a few blocks away — is a place where we’ll be safe. We want to know that we don’t need a security escort every time we leave a residential college after dark.
Our expectations may be unreasonable — it is easy enough to call 2-WALK, and in any case, we should be responsible for our own safety. But it is equally unreasonable for Yale to expect that simply offering these services and hoping that students use them is enough to maintain a sense of security on campus.
The University should be more forthright in letting us know exactly where and when students should avoid walking without security. Yale can continue to encourage us to take advantage of its security services whenever we feel unsafe, but it could also improve safety by telling us which streets, based on city crime statistics, are particularly dangerous to travel alone.
Beyond that, Yale should be more proactive in providing security options off-campus. The priority should be increased patrols — a move Yale and the city are already beginning to make. But there are other ideas that the University could adopt, like running a shuttle bus to popular off-campus sites on the weekends and extending the reach of the University’s police force, which students tend to trust more than the New Haven Police Department.
The quality of student life on Yale’s campus depends in large part on the confidence that New Haven is a safe place. Given this month’s events, that confidence is something we would like to see the University try a little harder to regain.