Eric Wang

In 1998, Andrew Matthews, a 27-year-old Yale police officer, quit his job with the University’s Police Department to fulfill his lifetime dream of becoming a state trooper.

“It was all I ever wanted,” he remembered.

For the next 20 years, Matthews served as a Connecticut state trooper — the force responsible for policing the state, especially the 81 of 169 towns in Connecticut without their own police force. But in an interview with the News, he said he may not have left the Yale Police Department three decades ago if the department offered the same high level of pay and benefits it offers its officers today.

“I don’t regret moving on in my career, but I probably would have chosen to stay [with the YPD] if I knew what the numbers would be 20 years later,” he said.

The Yale Police Department has received close to 300 applications for their three to four current job openings, Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins told to the News. However, he said that he anticipates retirements over the next 24 months which would create additional openings. These applicants include up to fifteen New Haven Police Department officers, according to the New Haven Independent.

On Oct. 30, Yale University and its police union — the Yale Police Benevolent Association — ratified a formal agreement after a union membership vote of 67 in favor to two against, making Yale’s police officers among the highest paid in the state, according to an Oct. 18 University statement.

Matthews, who now serves as the Yale police union’s attorney, thinks that word of Yale’s pay and benefits package has spread throughout New Haven, the state and the country. 

City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said that police departments of neighboring jurisdictions have occasionally hired New Haven Police Department officers by offering higher salaries. He said that it is his understanding that many sworn New Haven officers have recently applied for positions with Yale’s police force.

Yale police officers earn a starting salary of $67,797, with the top pay reaching $85,613, according to Matthews. He added that with Yale’s contract, members reach top staff after a guaranteed three years of service.

According to the New Haven Police Department’s 2017 applicant handbook, New Haven cops initially make $44,400 a year, one of the lowest starting salaries of any police department in the state, New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 told NBC Connecticut in August. Neighboring Hamden police officers start out at $76,000, and after four years begin to earn $83,000.

To compare, Matthews said that troopers begin with a salary of $41,603, which, upon graduation from the state trooper academy, is raised to $57,441. However, to reach the top staff wage of more than $95,000, troopers must put in ten years of service. Matthews noted that one state trooper, Matt Franco, left his position within a year of graduation from the academy — a 28-week, day-and-night program — to join the Yale police force.

“When you can make 25,000 more in the first three years on the job,” Matthews said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner said that the new Yale Police union agreement maintains the University’s investment in highly competitive salaries, benefits and working conditions for its officers. She said this will ensure that Yale continues to attract and retain outstanding people for the Department.

In addition, Yale officers receive additional benefits that are not given to officers of neighboring departments — including financial support for buying homes in New Haven and paying for their children’s college tuition.

The wage and benefit differences draw officers from all over the state to Yale’s department, a drain on New Haven’s and other urban police departments’ officer rolls. The disparity in income and benefits between neighboring departments has drawn a large number of New Haven police to neighboring departments.

For example, New Haven Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova applied for the Bridgeport chief of police position last month. He was named one of three semifinalists before losing in the final round to acting Bridgeport Chief Armando Perez.

Having a list of suitable applicants enables the department to replace officers quickly, Higgins told the News.

Matthews said that the new contract allows Yale to be very selective in choosing the best applicant. He said that he thinks while many agencies have to lower their standards, Yale can increase them.

“I’m not going to name any police departments, but a lot of times there’s not as many applicants, and there are more positions to fill, and you don’t get enough applicants to fill the positions,” said Matthews.

The New Haven Police Department has difficulty in retaining its officers, losing a large portion of its force every year. The department graduated 35 members from its police academy in 2015, and lost ten of those officers by the end of 2017, according to data obtained by the city’s human resources office. 59 new officers were hired in 2016, eight of which have already left the Department.

Yale gives its police officers a guaranteed, contractual agreement that they will move up in the ranks to top staff after only three years with the department. Matthews said that in many municipalities, the major problem is that a lot of police departments have moved away from defined contribution retirement plans, instead moving to 401(k) plans. He said that, in addition to a good salary, Yale offers a more lucrative benefit package for retirement. While the University’s police force are satisfied with their new joint agreement, their counterparts in the Elm City are clamoring for a better deal.

In September of this year, the New Haven Police Union put up two digital billboards on the I-91 and I-95 highways to advocate for better pay and benefits. Two of the advertisements read “Low pay, police don’t stay,” and “In three years, 34 officers left New Haven for better pay or benefits.”

In an interview with the News, Grotheer said that unfilled police officer positions in New Haven contribute to higher overtime costs, but do not undermine public safety.

Grotheer said that a new contract between the city administration and its own police officers’ union is currently being “worked out in binding arbitration.” He said that the terms of this new contract could potentially prompt departures or other treatments from the New Haven department.

The Yale Police Department was established in 1894.

Caroline Moore | caroline.moore@yale.edu

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu .