Students usually envision a robbery as a single thief approaching them, perhaps with a weapon in hand, on a poorly lit street late at night. But recent robberies in the Elm City show that Yale students and New Haven residents should not restrict their notions of robberies to this stereotype.
While police report that violent crime on campus and in the city is on the decline, students have reported being robbed on multiple occasions this semester by groups of teenagers, who sometimes don Halloween masks, riding bicycles. According to a campus-wide email sent by Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins last Thursday, these groups speed down sidewalks, intimidating many pedestrians. In light of the recent robberies, Yale Police officials have urged students and residents to be aware of their surroundings.
“From time to time, we see groups of adolescents or teenagers who ride bikes in groups with the intention of stealing a phone or robbing someone,” said YPD Assistant Lieutenant Von Narcisse in an email. “[But] I want to emphasize that this is rare … there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to when or why these robberies occur.”
He added that the most recent reported incidents this semester have not happened on campus, but rather in downtown New Haven.
An overwhelming majority of students interviewed, 17 of 20, said that they had not seen or engaged with these bikers. Pedestrians’ experiences with the bikers varied — while two encounters left pedestrians unaffected, one was left with a more shocking experience.
Xiao Qing GRD ’18 said that earlier this semester, two teens on bikes sped past her on the sidewalk. As they passed, one reached for her cell phone, but only managed to knock it out of her hand. Qing said that after she picked up her phone, the bikers rode away from her.
“I was shocked,” Qing said. “I think he gave up after I picked up my phone.”
Qing said that the riders, both males, appeared to be too young to be college students. Rather, she noted, they looked like high schoolers.
Other students said that their encounter with the bikers were “bothersome” but amounted to little more than a minor inconvenience. Ferzan Tapramaz GRD ’20 said that while the teen riders have never attempted to grab his belongings, he has only had to step aside out of the riders’ paths.
Yet most students interviewed said that they have not had any interactions with the bikers.
Kevin Wei ’17 said that he often sees teenagers riding their bikes along Elm Street, but has never experienced or seen them attempt a robbery.
Police patrolling in New Haven have not experienced a surge in robberies from the adolescent riders, either, according to New Haven Police Department spokesperson David Hartman.
“That’s certainly not to say [the robberies] don’t happen,” Hartman said. “But it’s just not a large problem.”
According to Higgins, the YPD has nonetheless placed additional uniformed and plainclothes officers outside in response to the uptick in appearances made by the adolescent riders.
Narcisse stressed that with the recent appearances of the bikers and spike in bicycle thefts on campus, pedestrians should stay especially vigilant now that the sun sets earlier in the day.
“Both Yale and New Haven Police remain highly flexible to meet community expectations to safeguard our open urban campus, but we need your assistance,” Higgins said.