For the seventh time in the last two months, Yalies have seen the streets they walk daily scarred with bullet holes. The story has grown grimly familiar: shots ringing out late on a weekend night, a stone’s throw from campus; frantic and confused texts from friends; yet another reason to stay in, to stay out of the city we would like to call home.
We cannot understate the importance of rapid, University-administered warnings after incidents like these. Unfortunately, in the hours that followed last September’s Crown Street shootings, the student body received no word — an email only came several days later. There was a similar silence in the aftermath of last month’s shootings at Toad’s, even closer to home.
Luckily, after this Saturday’s shooting, Yale used its emergency ALERT system to quickly send out warning texts to most of the student body. This is a step in the right direction. When violence strikes the peripheries of campus, quick messages keep us calm and safe.
But beyond responses, Yale must take a good look at what this mounting and unacceptable violence means for our community — and for our police. Arriving at Yale, students can and must be prepared for the realities of life in a city like New Haven, especially after sunset. We must walk these streets with vigilance, for they will not treat us differently than any other citizen. We must accept that downtown New Haven is a dangerous place, far more so than a Cambridge, Princeton, or Hanover. If the recent spate of shootings has taught us anything, it is that there are no safe streets at certain hours, no substituting blue-phones and minibuses for common caution. This is part of the price we pay for living in a dynamic urban center. There is no impenetrable shield against this city.
And yet, no New Havenite — Yalie or otherwise — should have to fear flying bullets on their Wenzel walk or trip to Toad’s. The Yale Police Department (YPD) has provided a valuable protective sphere over downtown, especially since Yale Security shouldered many of its non-policing duties in the early 1990’s. With the YPD relieved of tasks like walking escorts, locked doors and petty theft, the department has been able to focus on real police work.
Unfortunately, in the past few years, its mandate has somewhat shifted back. A crusade against underage drinking has reallocated YPD resources away from criminal investigations. Our police officers should not be standing outside of Broadway Liquor checking IDs when they could be investigating shootings such as this weekend’s.
We do not need a liquor squad. What we need is for the YPD to focus on what it has a proven track record of doing best: responding proactively to crime trends and investigating dangerous criminals. The YPD could also station its officers at violent hotspots in advance. And even if underage drinking is a legitimate New Haven policing issue, a better approach would be to target the liquor stores — not harassing students as they walk by.
In light of the recent violence, Yale will hear calls to aggressively ramp up its security: proposals like closed-circuit cameras across campus, as well as more officers with more weaponry. But in the end, real progress may come from better using the resources we already have.
We cannot turn Yale into a fortress. Such a project would be damaging, and in the end, futile. Violence will always creep through the cracks, and sadly, this will not be the last time shots are fired in our midst. But as we maintain our own vigilance, and as the university strives to keep us in the know, we hope that the YPD will refocus its mission. Its first job is not to keep students sober, but safe.