Karen Lin, Contributing Photographer
When University President Peter Salovey convened a task force to reform policing at Yale earlier this month, he told them that “everything is on the table, except for one thing: We’re not going to abolish the Yale Police Department.”
“But virtually everything about the way they do their work can be discussed,” Salovey added.
The University is engaged in a “rethink” of public safety at Yale, Salovey said. Yale is currently implementing the reforms outlined in a report by 21st Century Policing, an external firm that assesses police departments. Additionally, a committee, made up of Senior Vice President Jack Callahan ’80, SOM Dean Kerwin Charles, Vice President for New Haven Affairs and University Properties Lauren Zucker and University Secretary Kimberly Goff-Crews, is currently considering further changes to how officers are recruited and trained, how they interact with New Haven residents and how complaints against an officer are filed and investigated. This committee is part of the Belonging at Yale initiatives Salovey announced earlier this month.
But Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, a student group calling for the abolition of the YPD, say these reforms are merely a starting point. As long as the YPD exists, New Haven residents will still face the threat of a police force that has a history of violence against communities of color, said Jaelen King ’22, executive director of BSDY. Both Salovey and student organizers believe in narrowing the scope of situations that officers respond to. However, Yale’s administration wants to reform, but retain, the YPD, while students say abolition is the end goal and that reforms lack the imagination and drive necessary to truly progress.
“Those steps are beneficial in the immediate and in that transition period, but we need to push to have more happen,” King said. “We don’t think that’s the be-all and end-all that’s going to solve all the problems, because at the end of the day there’s still that police presence there … there’s still that inherent danger there.”
Currently, the YPD responds to situations ranging from paintball assaults to students locked out of dorm rooms. In the past, the school has encouraged this practice, Salovey said. Now, the University is looking at having different, unarmed personnel respond to complaints of loud parties or someone who is sick from alcohol poisoning.
These suggestions align with BSDY’s differential response system, which suggests calling on social workers, student aides and medical or mental health professionals to handle situations that do not demand an armed response. Along with this system, BSDY suggested reallocating the YPD’s budget to community causes, including education and housing for Black and brown communities in New Haven. Reinvesting money in the community would reduce crime, King said, making an armed force unnecessary.
But in an interview with the News, Salovey said the University needs a private police force to respond to crime.
“I believe that we need a police,” Salovey said in an interview with the News. “We need a police force because we need to prevent crimes against persons and property on campus. We need to be able to pursue people who’ve committed crimes and arrest them.”
In his view, a University-specific police force can better navigate the convoluted campus spaces — including laboratories and collections — than a municipal police force can. A police force that is a part of the University and works in collaboration with the New Haven Police Department can receive special training to understand the “ins and outs” of the people and locations on campus in a way that the city’s police force cannot, Salovey said.
King said Salovey’s justification of the YPD to protect property reinforces the idea that the YPD exists to shield Yale’s interests from New Haven. As long as the force exists and is not accountable to the New Haven community, the relationship between Yale and its home city will stay strained, he added.
In an Oct. 22 email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart noted that the University “values its relationship and partnership with the City of New Haven.” According to a YPD Community Outreach Efforts document, the YPD supports “a broad variety of community outreach events.”
It is a lengthy process to abolish the YPD, King said, as the current infrastructure supports having a police presence. BSDY has drafted a plan to pull funds from the YPD and reinvest them in community organizations. In an interview with the News, King said he may be open to having a very specialized team that would only respond to specific situations like an active shooter.
The BSDY plan is an outline and can change with input from other sources, King said. First and foremost, he said, the group hopes to facilitate a discussion between Yale administrators and community members, who currently feel “threatened or under assault” by the YPD. Even if the two parties disagree on a path forward, King said, they have the same intentions of improving the relationship between the University and New Haven.
But the group is in “limbo” right now, King said. They have not heard from the administration since Oct. 14. Students were set to meet with members of the administration on Oct. 9, but the University said community organizers could not come to the meeting and students could not record the conversation. The students would not meet on those terms, as they had told Yale they wished to bring community organizers weeks in advance. Since then, students have reached out multiple times without hearing a reply.
In an Oct. 21 email to the News, Peart said that administrators are always open to meeting with students, but that a meeting with students and community organizers would have to come at a later date.
“Dean Marvin Chun and Secretary and Vice President Kimberly Goff-Crews are always open to meeting with students to hear their views on matters of concern to them,” Peart wrote. “It was in this spirit that they offered to have a conversation with student leaders of Black Students for Disarmament of Police (BSDY) in September. In arranging the meeting, the university learned that the group planned to invite non-students and to record the conversation. While those were not the agreed-upon terms, the university will honor its offer to meet with the students at a later date.”
Peart also noted that the newly assembled task force will work closely with Chief Ronnell Higgins to make additional recommendations to reform public safety at Yale in accordance with the 21st Century Policing report.
The University has the oldest college police force in the United States.
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