We know him mostly by the e-mail messages he sends. They’re always “consistent with federal reporting requirements,” and they rarely tell of anything happy: a robbery on Mansfield Street, an assault on Orange, an employee in possession of firearms in a Yale parking lot. But, like so much of the work Yale Police Department Chief James Perrotti has done during his 25 years as a YPD officer and 12 as chief, they help keep members of the Yale community safe.
When he retires at the end of June, Perrotti will leave behind big shoes to fill. Still, the announcement he made last week gives us the opportunity to step back and consider the strengths and weaknesses of our police department.
During his tenure as a police officer and especially as chief, Perrotti rightly emphasized student safety and crime prevention. Crime has steadily declined during his tenure and, in 2008, the overall crime rate on campus was lower than it had been at any time since the YPD began keeping records in 1984. Although this decline in crime follows a larger citywide trend over the past two decades — the New Haven crime rate was at its lowest in recorded history in 2009 — his efforts have truly made a difference. Perrotti helped make the YPD a more professional squad and increased cooperation with the New Haven Police Department. This was obvious in the fall, when the tragic murder of Annie Le GRD ’13 showed that the YPD could cooperate not only with its brethren in New Haven, but also with state and federal law enforcement officials.
Early on, Perrotti also managed to smooth relations between members of the police department and the administration: When he took office in November of 1998, the Yale Police Benevolent Association had been locked in a contract war with University officials for nearly 28 months. In October of 1998, the union had threatened to strike. Less than two weeks after Perrotti was named chief, however, a tentative contract was signed.
Yet, while communication with labor representatives and other law enforcement agencies is undoubtedly important, we hope the next chief will communicate better with members of the entire Yale community. Indeed, most of the reason we know Perrotti by his e-mails is that they tend to be the only time we hear from him. He, like many members of his staff, rarely engages directly with those of us on campus, making it less likely that students, staff and faculty will point out security concerns.
The next chief should be more than simply accessible, though; she or he should also run a more transparent department than Perrotti has. The current chief refused to disclose his salary and, indeed, hired a lawyer to protect this information shortly after a state commission ordered his deputies to disclose theirs. The next chief should release his or her salary immediately upon taking the job and should make sure the YPD makes public all the information it is required to by law.
Heading up a police department on an urban campus is no easy task. Perrotti’s fine work will be remembered for years to come. But now, as we wait for a new chief to be announced, we hope the entire community will start thinking about ways we can make our campus and our city safer.