Yale officially welcomed its new police chief on Friday, bringing community and university leaders together to celebrate Chief Ronnell Higgins.
The swearing-in ceremony took place at the Yale Police Department headquarters at 101 Ashmun Street on Friday afternoon and brought together the leaders of both the Yale and New Haven communities — University President Richard Levin and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. The event marked the official end of a three-month national search for YPD Chief, which ended in the internal promotion of then-Assistant Chief Higgins. And although he was the one receiving the promotion on Friday, the event served both as a celebration of his family and the department in which he has spent his entire professional career.
“It is a particular pleasure to know that after an extensive national search, the best candidate was right here,” Levin said. “I was keeping my fingers crossed for him.”
The swearing-in began with a brief opening statement from Interim Head of Public Safety James Lewis. Lewis assumed leadership of the YPD when former Chief James Perrotti retired at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
Much of the ceremony focused on Higgins’ various connections to the Elm City through both his family and his community involvement.
Levin highlighted the significance of Higgins’ appointment against the backdrop of YPD and New Haven history. He said Higgins’ status as a New Haven resident who is active in both youth programs (he helps to coach his son’s football team) and his church highlights the YPD’s goal to bridge the gap between Yale and New Haven.
“This is a great moment for New Haven and for Yale to have one of our own hold this position,” Levin told the News after the ceremony.
Several speakers said that Higgins’s family connections tied him to the city even more than his current residence in New Haven.
DeStefano told the crowd that his father had worked along side the chief’s father — Reginald Higgins — in the New Haven Police Department. He attributed the new YPD chief’s success to good parenting on the part of Reginald and Shirley Higgins.
Police Commission Chairman Richard Epstein also highlighted the bond between Higgins and his family, mentioning his marriage to NHPD Internal Affairs Sgt. Robin Higgins.
“That [marriage] brings new meaning to bonding between the departments,” he said.
Higgins’ two children, RJ and Rihanna, occupied seats in the front row next to their mother and were integral pieces of the ceremony.
“This is all about making memories,” Lewis said as he invited Higgins’ parents and children to pin on his badge and stars.
Higgins had the final word at the event, and he took the opportunity to thank his mother, his brother, his wife and his children.
But the new chief saved a special gratitude for his father.
“[My brother and I] saw the way our father dealt with people and we learned,” he said. “He was firm, but compassionate.”
Both of the chief’s parents said they were glad to be in attendance for the ceremony. His mother told the News that her son is a “nice young man,” and that he deserved the new position.
Higgins had said after his promotion was announced that he credited his father with making him want to become a police officer and for encouraging him to join the YPD.
“He gives me too much credit,” Reginald Higgins said. “To have your son become a police chief … there are no words to describe it.”
Another major figure in Higgins’ professional career was present on Friday. Perrotti, who led the department for Higgins’ entire career and is responsible for helping him rise through the ranks, showed up to watch his replacement become official.
Perrotti downplayed his own significance in Higgins’ professional life, instead following suit with the other speakers that day and paying credit to the chief’s parents. But he added that he always hoped his replacement as chief would come from within the department.
“I saw a lot in Chief Higgins. He’s smart, hard working and not afraid to ask questions,” he said. “Successorship is something a good leader should think about. I didn’t wanted to walk out the door and forget about the organization.”
In addition to regular daily duties, Higgins is set to announce his own successor as Assistant Chief in the coming weeks. He will be considering his six lieutenants for the position, he said in January.
But Friday was Higgins’ moment, and he took it to thank his officers.
“[The YPD officers] make this campus the safest campus in the nation,” he said. “We are all interconnected by service to ourselves and service to our community.”
The YPD draws its legal authority as a policing agency from the NHPD.