On Monday evening, officers from the Yale Police Department and students gathered at the Asian American Cultural Center to discuss broad issues of policing in a national and local context.
Led by YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins and Lieutenant Joseph Vitale, the dinner conversation was attended by a handful of students who are involved in the Asian American Cultural Center and Native American Cultural Center. The conversation began with questions regarding the use of body cameras in police departments across the nation and was followed by questions from students regarding the YPD’s dynamics and role in the University.
“We want to understand student opinion and thoughts, and we thought that it would be best to start a dialogue at the cultural centers,” Higgins said.
AACC member Mohan Yin ’16, a former production and design editor for the News, began the discussion by asking Higgins about the use of body cameras in the YPD. Higgins said the YPD was one of the first police departments in the nation to pilot the use of body cameras. The department owns 10 body cameras, and though not every officer is required to wear one, a single supervisor on each shift must wear one, Higgins added.
Students also asked questions regarding the circumstances under which the YPD sends out emails to the student body. AACC Co-Head Coordinator Jessica Liang ’17 suggested that the rate of crime emails sent out increases over breaks and tend to report crimes in areas which graduate students frequent. Higgins explained that emails are only sent out when the crime poses a continued threat to the community. If the criminal has been apprehended, then no email is sent out, Higgins added.
When asked about the kinds of communication and feedback that the YPD receives from the student body, Higgins spoke about the interactions that all 87 of YPD’s police officers have every day with students.
“Every single interaction by a YPD officer is an opportunity to have some constructive conversation with a community member, but there is no one avenue that any police department can or should take to communicate,” he said.
AACC Co-Head Coordinator Hiral Doshi ’17 also raised concerns about the measures the YPD takes in order to avoid situations of racial discrimination. Higgins cited high professional standards, a selective recruitment process and diversity training for his officers.
Regarding the situation in Ferguson, Higgins said he believes that the Ferguson police department was not committed to servicing its community. It is a big problem if the culture of one police department makes it so that the men and women working in it behave in a way that contradicts the mission of the police organization as a whole, he said.
Students interviewed after the event said they thought the conversation with the police had been productive, though they were disappointed with the low turnout. Yin said he thinks the dinner conversation provided insight into the YPD’s inner workings.
“Policing wasn’t particularly an issue that I was involved in, but this was a good opportunity for us to communicate with the people who are in charge of this department,” he said.
The YPD, established in 1894, is the nation’s oldest university police department.