After a white graduate student called the police on a black graduate student napping in a Hall of Graduate Studies common room last spring, the Yale Police Department set out to institute a range of bureaucratic measures aimed at improving police-community relations.
The initiatives, announced by University President Peter Salovey in August, include enhanced implicit bias training, an updated orientation with the Yale Police Department for first-year students and the creation of two new Yale Police Department–led bodies designed to better connect police officers with Yale community members. The University also tasked Lorenzo Boyd, an expert in police-community relations, with investigating the role of the Yale police in the Hall of Graduate Studies incident, as well as more general issues surrounding race and policing.
Since the incident, the Yale Police Department has established the Community Committee on Public Safety, which will consist of students, faculty and staff members working alongside officers, and the Community Engagement Team, currently comprising two officers focused on improving communication with members of the Yale community, according to Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins. The public safety committee will meet every other month beginning in October to identify, assess and propose recommendations for the operation and practices of the department, Higgins said.
“The primary objective of this committee is to proactively plan, creatively problem-solve and actively engage in innovative strategies promoting public safety,” he added.
Salovey told the News that he is “pleased with the progress” that the Yale police force has made on the two new committees.
Meanwhile, officers on the department’s community engagement team will interact with student organizations and the Athletic Department, among other groups, to identify and address specific campus needs and concerns.
Higgins added that the police department is also in the process of developing role-reversal training in which officers are placed in the position of a community member and vice-versa. The method is intended to “build empathy among all stakeholders,” he said.
“Our main objective is to keep our campus safe,” Higgins said. “Having highly trained, armed, empathetic police officers helps us do that.”
As the Yale Police Department updates its training procedures, Boyd, a consultant and chair of the criminal justice department at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, is conducting an investigation into race and policing at Yale. The study will culminate in culture-based training with the police and Yale community to promote inclusion and empathy, according to Boyd.
“Typically when there are issues in policing — perceived or real — a primary goal is to address these issues head on, through assessment, training and workshops supported by empirically sound, evidence-based research, in order to bridge the gap between police and the communities they serve,” Boyd said.
Most students interviewed by the News reacted positively to the new initiatives, though some expressed doubts about how effective the measures would be. For instance, Yasamin Sharifi ’19 said that because of the broad nature of the goals outlined by Salovey when he announced the new initiatives, which she deemed necessary, she finds it difficult to predict what impact the measures will have.
In the aftermath of the HGS incident, a group of black graduate and professional students wrote an open letter calling for the disarmament of Yale police officers, among other demands.
Of the 21 students interviewed by the News, eight said they believe that in addition to the current efforts, Yale Police Department officers should be disarmed. Only three said they believe that the officers should be allowed to carry firearms. The remaining 10 said they were on the fence about the issue.
Danielle Lotridge ’19 expressed some discomfort about the fact that Yale Police Department officers carry guns. She said that she does not feel it necessary for the campus police to be armed, given that New Haven police officers already are.
Still, others speculated that without firearms Yale police officers would be no different from Yale Security personnel.
Weaver Lilley ’21 said he does not take issue with Yale Police Department officers carrying guns.
“I see no issue with giving Yale Police Department officers firearms, as the officers are well-trained and professional in their jobs,” Lilley said. “This policy keeps both us and the officers safe, and our campus and city are better off because of it.”
The Yale Police Department has 93 sworn police officers.
William McCormack contributed reporting.
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