At a meeting with the Yale College Democrats last night, New Haven Chief of Police Dean Esserman stressed the importance of community policing in curbing crime in the Elm City.
Although the Yale Dems planned the discussion in response to the August shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Esserman addressed a variety of topics, starting with Connecticut’s gubernatorial race. In addition to showing his support for incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy, Esserman answered questions about community policing, gun control and racial profiling.
The Yale Dems did not ask to host Esserman specifically to endorse Malloy or his policies, according to Yale Dems communications director Lily Sawyer-Kaplan ’17. The event, which was co-sponsored by the Yale Chapter of Amnesty International, was intended to stimulate discussion within the Yale community about policing in New Haven, she added.
“I think following the events in Ferguson, we wanted [Esserman] to set the record straight with us,” said Becca Ellison ’15, Yale Dems president. “I think it’s good to be reminded that we’re citizens of New Haven.”
Speaking specifically to New Haven, Esserman said that Yale first turned its attention to crime in New Haven in the wake of the murder of Christian Prince ’93 in 1991 on Hillhouse Avenue.
“It was a turning point and Yale did something that I’d never seen before — Yale actually cared,” Esserman said.
While Yale connected itself more to the community following the tragedy, Esserman said that current students are largely unaware of the murder.
Esserman stressed that increasing public attention towards these types of violent crimes can serve as a foundation for change in the policing system.
“The reality is that the amount of violence on the streets of America is amazing,” Esserman said. “But there’s no moral outrage.”
Esserman identified community policing as one of New Haven’s key initiatives in increasing trust between citizens and police officials, and ultimately reducing crime in the city.
Community policing — a system where new police officers are assigned to stay in a specific area of town instead of changing beats — was introduced to New Haven nearly 20 years ago when Esserman first became NHPD Chief of Police. However, after he left New Haven to join the Providence, Rhode Island police force, the system of community policing also left the city. When Esserman returned to New Haven two years ago, he reintroduced the system to the NHPD.
When police are first introduced to their beats, Esserman said tensions run high between the new officers and the community members, but the officers eventually build trust within their neighborhoods.
According to Esserman, when community members are more familiar with officers in the neighborhood, they are more likely to report crimes and ask for help.
“By the end of a month or two, people know their vacation schedules, their kids and call them on their cell phones,” he said.
Members of the Dems also prompted questions concerning tensions between minorities and police officers in New Haven and across the country.
Esserman said that racial profiling has existed for a long time within the American police force, adding that, as a result, many people — especially minorities — do not feel comfortable around the police. He cited incidents when police officers were ordered to shoot Irish and Italian immigrants in the early 20th century.
“There’s a sense that if you’re a cop, you’re all part of the same cop family,” Esserman said. “What I saw in Ferguson embarrassed me and ashamed me, but it ain’t me.”
According to Esserman, community policing is one strategy to break down barriers between law enforcement and community members.
In addition to serving as New Haven’s Chief of Police, Esserman worked as the Police Chief for the Providence Rhode Island Police Department and the MTA Metro North Police Department.