New Haven’s national reputation has suffered in recent years. Various publications have ranked the city among the most dangerous in the United States, and four homicides in August only hurt the situation. But we must not let this negativity distort our perception of crime in New Haven. This city might indeed be considered “dangerous,” but the situation is undeniably improving. The Yale administration and students alike ought to take note.
2011 was a disastrous year for crime in New Haven. March saw four homicides, culminating in the tragic murder of Mitchell Dubey. A Devil’s Gear employee active in the burgeoning Connecticut indie rock scene, Dubey was killed in a botched robbery at his Newhallville apartment. His death marked a watershed moment for New Haven, and ever since, crime, especially homicides, has been on the downswing.
In the first seven months of 2011, the city saw 19 homicides, 79 non-fatal shootings and 257 shots fired. In the same span of 2014, those numbers were seven, 37 and 101, respectively. The figures for 2012 and 2013 fit almost precisely with a linear downward trend.
August 2014 was an unusually violent month, with four homicides. Coming just before the arrival of students on campus, these homicides attracted a fair deal of attention from media and students alike. But August went against the trend, not with it, and violence has tended to decrease over the last three years. One month — thirty days — is too small a statistical unit to have any individual meaning. The previous seven months had seen only seven homicides in all — and over that time span, numbers do start to have meaning. Indeed, the city has seen a remarkable decline in gun-related violent crime since its heights in 2011, which rightly prompted considerable concern.
Nevertheless, we cannot deny that violent crime does exist in New Haven, even if not in the neighborhoods we frequent as Yale students. The University may have no moral imperative to help the municipal authorities fight crime at all times. Still, Yale should commit at least a portion of its vast financial and administrative resources towards reducing crime. The Department of Justice recently committed a million-dollar grant toward making Newhallville safer by improving community-oriented policing, a sense of social cohesion and the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood. I see no reason why Yale should not help in that initiative, even if only financially.
A larger point exists here, one about the relations between Yale’s interest and New Haven’s interest. In my mind, they are one and the same, at least in the realm of crime. Neither the Yale administration nor the municipal administration wishes to see violent crime proliferate further throughout the city. Yes, Yale’s interests here may be more self-centered than the city’s — Yale might be more concerned with the effect upon its reputation and its endowment — but that should pose no obstacle to collaboration.
New Haven finds itself in a unique situation, one that any other small, high-crime Connecticut city like Hartford or Bridgeport would love to have: A wealthy, world-class university inhabits its downtown. Yale-effected gentrification has its naysayers, but New Haven is far from the ultra-élite districts of Williamsburg and Cobble Hill, which have alienated their former inhabitants. And gentrification, though it may destroy some local character and homogenize city centers, typically has a net positive effect on crime reduction. It is no mistake that Yale’s expansion in the 1990s, adding 4,000 jobs and expanding its built space by 40 percent while redeveloping Broadway and Chapel Streets, corresponded with a significant decrease in crime.
In the coming decades, Yale can do something similar by using its cachet to attract a new wave of young, intelligent and creative people to the city, the likes of which can already be seen in the wonderful neighborhoods around Orange Street. But as Yale students we must not allow ourselves to ascribe to the view that violence is all around us and worsening constantly. To do so would be to ignore the reality of this fine city.
Noah Daponte-Smith is a freshman in Berkeley College. Contact him at email@example.com.