The Elm City’s police leadership packed into the Berkeley College Common Room Monday evening for a meet and greet with students.
New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman and Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins were joined by four members of the Board of Aldermen and about 25 students in an hour-long session aimed at allowing students to get to know police leadership and understand their departments’ operations. The meeting, organized by Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12, who represents most undergraduates on the board, and members of the Yale College Council’s executive board, comes as police seek to strengthen relations with students as part of a broad-based community policing strategy.
“The fact that both Chief Higgins and Chief Esserman were so eager to do this is indicative of the fact they yearn for more student input on policing, and I think it’s incumbent upon students to step up to the plate and do that,” YCC President Brandon Levin ’13 said. “Students play a role in community policing and the chiefs mentioned repeatedly that they are eager to work with students and the YCC to find ways to do that.”
Since taking office in November, Esserman has reached out to the Yale community in a manner unlike his predecessor Frank Limon, said Ward 29 Alderman Brian Wingate, who chairs the Board of Aldermen’s public safety committee. Already, Esserman teaches a Yale Law School clinic on “Innovations in Policing” with Professor James Forman Jr. LAW ’92, and Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in February her office was working on details for a potential residential college seminar taught by Esserman.
Esserman said engaging with the Yale community is simply one part of a broader community policing strategy that involves developing relationships between police and all members of the community to both prevent and solve crimes.
“Yale’s an important part of the city, and its students are part of the community we serve,” Esserman told the News before the event.
Eidelson said she organized the event to facilitate more open lines of communication between students and the city’s police departments, adding that she hopes to combat a lack of information among students about how policing works.
“I just told the chief, these events show we’re moving in the right direction, so hopefully this can be sustainable,” Wingate said. “The community has high expectations, with the students in the community, I love it.”
Wingate added it was particularly exciting to see student leadership engaging with the city’s police.
All three YCC presidential candidates — Cristo Liautaud ’14, John Gonzalez ’14 and Eric Eliasson ’14 — attended the event, and all three agreed that students and YCC members should become acquainted with the police leadership.
“YCC can really help the Yale Police promote its resources and get in touch with students and manage expectations of students,” said Liautaud, who has met with Higgins to discuss student initiatives to improve public safety.
Gonzalez and Eliasson said events like Monday night’s meet and greet provide important opportunities for students to better educate themselves about local policing operations, particularly with the citywide rollout of community policing strategies and the NHPD’s aim to improve communication between police and residents.
Students asked the assembled police leadership — who also included YPD Assistant Chiefs Michael Patten and Steven Woznyk — a variety of questions about community policing, public safety around Toad’s Place and police-fraternity interactions.
When asked by a student about how fraternities can improve their relationships with the police, Esserman shot back: “Can I ask you a question? What’s the drinking age?”
Other groups Esserman has met with since being sworn in include the Dwight Hall Urban Fellows Program, the Yale Police Department’s Citizen’s Police Academy and Middleman.