A Yale Divinity student was assaulted and robbed yesterday morning in front of the Divinity School, bringing back memories of last fall’s series of muggings involving New Haven youth.
Yale Police Department Lt. Michael Patten said the student was approached by a group of six teenagers on bicycles who assaulted him and stole his mountain bike. Although the student suffered several punches, Patten said he was not seriously injured.
“He was traveling down Canner Street with his bike when they approached him as a group and stole his bike,” Patten said.
The first assault since the official beginning of the school year, the assault was announced to students within hours by YPD Chief James Perrotti in a posting made on the Yale Web Portal. Later in the afternoon, Perrotti directly e-mailed students to report the incident and ask for reports on possible criminal activity.
“I want to urge all members of the Yale community to call us right away if they see large groups of young people on bikes or anyone else who seems suspicious,” he wrote.
University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said the decision to send an e-mail to students — based on the joint opinions of the Secretary’s Office and the Yale Police Department — was made to encourage students to communicate with the police when they feel uncomfortable in particular situations.
Although Thursday’s mugging was the first robbery of its kind since the beginning of the school year, similar incidents occurred repeatedly last fall in areas around the fringes of central campus. In separate incidents, several students were approached by bicycle-riding youths armed with pellet guns who demanded their money.
While YPD officials said they are not sure if this is the beginning of a pattern, they think that increased student communication with police could stop such street crime before it happens. Highsmith urged students to report groups of teenagers on bikes so that the area can be monitored by a law enforcement official, even if the bikers do not appear to be engaged in illegal actions.
“We didn’t send the e-mail to scare students,” she said. “We sent the e-mail to give them our number and encourage them to call us.”
New Haven Police Department spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester was unavailable for comment Thursday night.
For some University officials, it was the timing of the incident — 10:30 a.m. — and not the circumstances of the assault that they found surprising. Both Patten and Highsmith said that teens involved in muggings usually wait until nighttime — after the normal school day is over.
“These are school-aged kids,” Patten said. “The question is: Why weren’t they at school?”
While Highsmith and Patten agreed that lack of parental supervision might be a possible cause of the problem, Highsmith also said state funding for programs targeting truancy needs to increase. Highsmith said the city’s Truancy Program, a joint initiative between the NHPD and the Yale Child Study Center, was scaled back after the state legislature decreased the funding.
Though she said Yale would be unlikely to shoulder the entire cost of reinstating the program, she said the University will remain active in contributing to New Haven Public Schools and will become more active in policy issues that affect New Haven youth.
“We don’t have any specific dates for the review, but I think we do have plans to look at a wide array of policy issues that will help to restore funding for these kinds of programs,” she said.