Despite the variety at Yale, students share at least one common experience: the contents of their inboxes. A semester’s worth invariably contains propaganda to join the several hundred campus groups “signed up” for at a frenetic bazaar many months ago, proclamations of dance parties at T0ADS!, demands from Jill Carlton, Registrar, to submit web evaluations — and about 10 messages from the enigmatic Yale Police Department Chief James A. Perrotti.
At times, those somber notes are eerily vague — “police have received a report of an acquaintance rape that occurred prior to the winter recess” — while other e-mails seem almost reassuring, as if we have been pulled into a town-gown drama and then placated with a Hollywood ending.
“A Yale College student was the victim of an attempted, unarmed robbery at the intersection of Elm and York Streets, by a black male wearing a dark coat and a beanie cap,” Perrotti wrote in early December. “Fortunately, the student was not injured.”
But sometimes, the reports, though crucial to receive, are just downright frustrating, if not frightening.
Last week, we learned that an undergraduate was almost robbed at approximately 3:15 a.m. on Cross Campus, near Calhoun College. (Unlike before, however, we were not told of the outcome; later, it surfaced that the student’s arm was cut. But as is often the case, the e-mail came a bit late.)
Although Perrotti said in an interview he was “hugely concerned” by the incident, there were at least three problems raised by the content of his report — all, we think, avoidable ones, even if the presence and aggression of the assailant himself was not.
First, the news came on the heels of a mass-hiring of security guards to patrol colleges, two each, from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Students, it must be said, should be grateful for their presence; the philosophy, explained University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, is to promote a sort of community policing and prevent daylight and evening burglaries.
But 4 p.m. to midnight? If the University is serious about promoting a safer campus, it is common sense that these guards should be posted from, say, 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Highsmith reassured us that guards have shifted to later times in some cases: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.; but this move should be made as promptly as possible.
Second, we wonder why no police are posted on the central arteries of campus, Cross Campus and Elm Street, during the wee hours of the morning. Yalies are often night owls, and yet one can often stroll from Swing Space to Old Campus, or from Silliman to Davenport, without encountering a single officer. We understand the difficulties of hiring and training police, and we don’t think more officers are absolutely necessary, as the Department recently underwent an upgrade. But while Highsmith has a point in that the Department has “not seen a pattern” in central campus crimes, we should not have to wait for such a pattern to emerge; a redeployment to more carefully protect students strolling Broadway, after studying and in search a late-night snack, is imperative and, again, a matter of common sense.
Third, the alert, like others, begged a frustrating question: Okay, now what? In interviews, Perrotti and Highsmith both seemed remarkably receptive to feedback. But it would be helpful for them to take that attitude one step further. In his e-mails, Perrotti should solicit feedback beyond the details of any particular crime. Or he could send out a mass e-mail seeking suggestions from the entire campus.
Safety is one realm of campus life in which on-the-ground student feedback may not only be nice for the sake of fulfilling the natural youthful desire to meddle in authority. In this case, it could make the difference between life, death — or a knife wound to the shoulder.