Madelyn Kumar, Senior Photographer
Amid nationwide outrage over police violence and growing calls to defund and dismantle the Yale Police Department, the University released a detailed review of the YPD earlier this week.
The assessment was conducted by 21CP Solutions, an external consulting firm that grew from former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The University ordered the review last year after a YPD officer and an HPD officer opened fire on two unarmed Black New Haven residents, Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, sparking protests as students and city activists demanded the disarmament of the YPD and clearly defined limits on YPD policing borders. The report spans 79 pages and includes recommendations clustered around four “pillars”: reimagining public safety at Yale, strengthening community trust and confidence, ensuring responsive police practices and operations, and strengthening YPD’s culture.
“The theme that most frequently emerged in 21CP’s listening sessions was the sense that policing on campus too often seems to happen to the community rather than with it,” read a statement co-authored by YPD chief Ronnell Higgins, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner, Senior Vice President Jack Callahan, and University President Peter Salovey. “To address this challenge successfully, we are reassessing and reshaping major aspects of policing at Yale.”
According to the report, 21CP conducted its review by interviewing stakeholders across YPD, Yale’s campus, and the New Haven community, conducting “listening sessions” that typically lasted sixty to ninety minutes. In these sessions, 21CP asked students, faculty, staff, YPD personnel and New Haven residents to provide input on their conception of the YPD and its practices. The report acknowledged that participation was self-selecting and they interviewed “nowhere near” a statistically representative sample of the Yale community. However, 21CP said that there were sufficiently similar concerns across the board to warrant a host of transformations to the YPD.
The first broad area — reimagining public safety at Yale — recommends that Yale develop a “differential response model” — a model that distinguishes between requests for police service and matches safety response to specific situations. For example, if the department receives a call expressing concerns over the mental health of an individual, it could be that campus mental health professionals are dispatched to the scene with YPD officers arriving in a backup capacity.
21CP also recommended that Yale stakeholders collaborate with the department to come up with a specific, shared Public Safety Vision for Yale. This vision would then be developed into a series of actionable steps that YPD can implement — including metrics for goal setting and evaluation of the department. 21CP also advised the creation of a Community Policing Policy that affirms the commitment of the department to this policing vision.
On Monday, University administrators said they were committed to implementing 21CP recommendations, starting with new scenario-based training in de-escalation techniques and reduction of use of force, requiring all officers to intervene in, stop, and immediately report use of excessive force, and asking all individuals who call the YPD whether they need police, fire, or mental health services.
The report also endorsed closer integration between the YPD, the New Haven Police Department, and Yale Security, suggesting enhanced communication between the bodies and joint training exercises. City activists and students have long protested the “triple occupation” of New Haven –– referring to the fact that a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the departments allows for NHPD, YPD, and Hamden Police Department to police the city. Salovey told the News that YPD would work with the NHPD to ensure that they “police only agreed-upon designated areas”.
The review comes as student groups are amplifying their calls to shut down the YPD in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and broader violence against Black communities by law enforcement. Black Students for Disarmament at Yale’s “Defund and Dismantle YPD” petition –– which argues that YPD does not perform an essential function and cites a list of YPD incidents against Black and brown community members –– has amassed over 6,000 signatures as of Tuesday. The group also protested on the New Haven Green last Saturday, and is holding a teach-in this Friday to discuss police abolition.
Zoë Hopson ‘22, co-head of BDSY, told the News that the 21CP report was designed to appeal to moderates –– geared to satisfy those who know that problems exist within the YPD but are more inclined towards reform rather than abolition.
“21CP creates this vision of public safety that sounds ideal but in reality only strengthens YPD,” Hopson said. “Reform versus abolition of YPD funds the police department’s ability to continue to abuse their power on campus and in the community. The very practice of policing has systemic racial injustices embedded in it and reform cannot fix that. This “vision of public safety” that 21CP imagines does not exist for us as long as YPD is allowed to patrol our campuses and cause fear for people of color.”
Hopson and BSDY member Ben Dormus ‘21 also said that they would only work with University administrators to defund and dismantle YPD and saw just two components of the 21CP report that could be compatible with those ends: the differential response model and YPD ceasing its use of patrol vehicles. The two cited Washington’s shooting as an example of YPD using patrol vehicles to “invade Black and Brown New Haven communities” and demanded that YPD reinvest the money used to buy those vehicles into New Haven.
In its second section evaluating community trust, 21CP suggested that the department put community engagement at the heart of its operations, rather than considering it as a specialized function for some designated officers. The YPD currently employs two community engagement officers specifically tasked with strengthening YPD-community relations — such as holding its annual Turkey Drive, its “donuts with cops” events, and dressing up as characters for the First-Year Olympics. Yet the report concluded that the two officers could not be the sole face of YPD’s engagement with the city and the campus, and instead all officers needed to make it a priority.
The report proposes multiple examples of community-police interactions: holding in-person discussion sessions, assigning officers to be fixed liaisons with cultural houses and residential colleges, implementing more comprehensive student and staff orientation programmes and increasing communication with Yale and the New Haven community beyond Higgins’ Public Safety Alert emails.
“Real community policing…is an overriding approach to policing,” the report reads. “Rather than a series of disconnected programs, an isolated assignment, or an extracurricular activity, community policing refers to the fundamental way that police conduct their work on a minute-to-minute, shift-to-shift basis.”
21CP also highlighted what it called a great deal of “rumors, half-facts, and misunderstandings” circulating throughout the Yale community in regards to the role of the YPD and its relationship with the New Haven, stating that the department needed to increase its transparency with the Yale community. The report clarified, amongst other things, that the YPD is not considered a private police force — though YPD officers are employed and paid for by the University, the officers are appointed by New Haven’s Board of Police Commissioners and “their power as law enforcement officers derives from local and state authority”. Therefore, the report said, YPD officers are equivalent to NHPD officers.
Students have criticized YPD’s lack of accountability for this reason — arguing that though YPD has all the powers of municipal officers, there isn’t a clear system to file misconduct complaints. This has long been a source of town-gown animosity, as city activists have become increasingly frustrated at prolonged attempts to create accountability mechanisms for both NHPD and YPD. For example, a Civilian Review Board intended to investigate issues of police accountability is yet to be officially implemented as the city struggles to elect representatives to the board.
The process for filing a complaint against the YPD is currently to fill out a form online, but community members who have lodged complaints have said that they were not provided updates on their status and were in the dark as to how the complaint was investigated. 21CP advised that the YPD form an independent review body to alleviate skepticism over the department investigating its own allegations of misconduct.
“If you’re still not held accountable to this community that you claim to represent, and if Yale does want to do something for the community and is so community-oriented, the last thing we need is a police force,” Teigist Taye ‘22, a member of BSDY, told the News last week. “How about we start paying the money [the community] feels like they’re owed towards their public school programs or public health programs?”
In its third section, the report concentrated on the YPD’s specific practices. 21CP said the YPD used force infrequently, with 29 total incidents in 2018 that indicated “hard hand control” and “handcuffing” as the most common force types. The report suggested that the department explicitly indicate its commitment to upholding the sanctity of human life in its policies and add a requirement that officers must exhaust all other means reasonably available to them under the circumstances before using deadly force.
In an additional Monday statement, Higgins said that he was committed to taking action in response to feedback and was prepared to listen to community members.
“I have found myself, like so many good law enforcement officials who feel to me like family, profoundly sad as I try to put on my uniform without feeling a sense of great loss at the realization that for many, what should be a symbol of peace and a beacon of hope instead symbolizes pain, hurt, and fear,” Higgins said. “I sincerely believe that the law enforcement profession, including those of us serving the Yale and New Haven communities, must share in the outrage and the demands for change.”
The Yale Police Department was established in 1894.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org