I’m sure many of us saw the latest manifestation of the crime problem that plagues our city and therefore our school. How could you not? It practically rammed into Trumbull College.
I’m talking about the BMW that drove erratically down Broadway on Sunday evening before striking another car and coming to a stop on Elm Street. Its driver was one Gordon Pettaway, 21, a New Haven resident whose aberrant driving skills were caused by the bullet wound in his left shoulder. The News reported that at least 10 police cars crowded one of the campus’s main pedestrian arteries as students walked by what looked like a chaotic crime scene of broken glass and smashed vehicles. Such scenes are unfortunately not uncommon in the neighborhoods that buttress the University, but for Yalies, it must have been quite a sight.
What does the incident mean for our daily lives?
Well, first, that we have to watch out for speeding cars that almost collide with residential colleges — one coming down Edgewood Avenue at 60 miles per hour last week almost plowed into Pierson College’s gate, not to mention a Pierson student.
But more importantly, it reminds us that we should ask and expect more of Yale in how it presents information about campus safety to us. It must have been odd for students who saw the chaotic scene on Sunday not to receive any official communication from the University about it, as if it hadn’t happened. Yale administrators in charge of our security say they inform us of incidents that directly threaten the safety of Yale community members. In a very narrow sense, the BMW and its wounded driver didn’t threaten our safety, but Yale’s choice not to formally alert us about it reveals an astounding lack of common sense. Yes, tell us about the street robbery halfway up Science Hill, but don’t ignore technically less serious incidents in the middle of campus.
A gunshot victim on Elm Street and the police reaction that he elicited were a big deal. The street was closed, people gathered to watch the circus of emergency sirens — it was a disruption of normal college life. People were talking about it — thankfully we have the News to report on these kinds of things, but there is something to be said for the finality of an official communication from a respected authority figure. Looking at you, Ronnell.
Absent that kind of message, the initial buzz that I heard was that there had been a shooting at Trumbull College. Withholding information about chaotic incidents doesn’t make them recede from the public mindset — it just lets them grow into something worse: the kind of misinformation that can cause fear and unwise responses.
Yale’s security apparatus needs to take a broader view of why it shares crime information with us at all. It’s not just to keep us physically safe the night of a shooting or mugging; the mission should be to give us an accurate and informed perspective on the crime and disorder around us. The current approach of strictly adhering to only what is required is useful for disseminating basic information, but it means that we never have a chance to assess the bigger crime picture. This approach means that the Yale Police Department releases an annual safety report and maintains a daily crime log as required (the log is available at http://publicsafety.yale.edu/daily-crime-log, by the way).
But it also means that the YPD doesn’t report larcenies in that report, simply because they’re not required to by law, even though it’s the type of crime most likely to afflict Yale students. And it means that in that 24-page report, virtually the only new information other than fire drill scorecards is on the two pages that list the crime statistics themselves. There is no analysis of crime trends, no proactive warning about what the YPD and Yale security are preparing for in the coming year, and certainly no discussion of how Yale’s crime scene fits into the city’s.
The frustrating thing is that I am confident, or at least hopeful, that the professionals of the YPD know and talk about all these things, just not publicly. A reactive, by-the-books approach by the men and women who keep us safe is not going to cut it. We should expect and demand to be kept in the loop.
Colin Ross is a senior in Berkeley College. His column runs on Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.