When Yale Police Department Assistant Chief Ronnell Higgins is sworn in as chief on Friday, he will officially assume a position he has held in practice for six months. But he did not occupy his position at the top of the YPD alone. He worked alongside and received the tutelage of law enforcement veteran — formerly for New Haven; now for Yale — James Lewis.
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Lewis, the former New Haven Police Department chief whose official title at Yale is Interim Head of Public Safety, will be stepping down on Friday from all official University capacities, but he will not be leaving for good. Yale has asked Lewis to be available part-time as a consultant to assist Higgins in formulating a new operations and deployment plan for the department, Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said.
Lewis has been requested because of the programs Lewis undertook while serving as interim head, and his over 40 years of policing experience, Lindner said.
“Jim Lewis will be extraordinarily valuable to us during [the next few months], as he’s a highly respected chief who has led many departments through these planning processes,” Lindner said. “And he’s, quite simply, exceptional in both the strategic and operational levels, so we’re fortunate to have him available to us.”
Higgins cited Lewis’s policing background as one of the reasons he will be valuable to the department as it begins a new era. He added that he will be modeling some of his first initiatives as chief on Lewis’s ideas for emphasizing employee input.
When Lewis first came to the YPD in July after taking over for former chief James A. Perrotti, he met with every YPD employee for 20 to 30 minutes, he said. All told, he met with over 90 percent of the YPD’s roughly 85 officers and other employees, he added.
After meeting with as many people as he could, Lewis presented his findings in front of Higgins, the police union and many other YPD employees. He said that most of the comments were simple misunderstandings that were easily fixed, but added that there were also concerns about testing, equipment and uniforms that the YPD is currently seeking to address.
“It was that [initiative] that served as a great jumping-off point for the beginning of my formulating a plan for the department,” Higgins said.
The new chief said that he has three primary goals for his time as chief: drive down crime, improve services, and improve the employee experience. To accomplish this last objective, Higgins said he plans to renew Lewis’s process again by meeting with every employee beginning in a few weeks.
While Higgins will be dealing with the day-to-day operations of the department, Lewis will serve as a consultant in whatever capacity Yale demands, he said, adding that this is similar to the way the YPD has been organized for some time.
“Not a lot is going to change,” he said. “To a large extent, Chief Higgins has been running the department for the past six months.”
Since Perrotti retired, Higgins has assumed many of the daily responsibilities of a chief, such as sending crime-related e-mails to the Yale community.
But although both chiefs’ roles will be similar, Lewis’s presence on campus will be diminished in his new capacity as advisor.
While his agreement with Yale said that Lewis would be on campus for approximately half the time as interim head, his new role will be much more undefined, Lindner said. This could mean that Lewis will call Higgins for as little as an hour each week, or he could spend as many as several days every month on campus through June, she added.
But even though he will no longer have an official role at Yale, Lewis will remain busy.
He currently takes on consulting jobs, both paid and unpaid, that benefit from his extensive policing experience, and he said he plans to continue these projects. Recently he met with the Camden Police Chief to speak with him about the ramifications of extensive layoffs, and he has been asked to do an internal review for a police agency in Wisconsin, he said.
Before joining the YPD, Lewis was the NHPD chief for 20 months. During his tenure, the city’s crime rate fell by more than 10 percent.