After the shooting death of Yale graduate student Kevin Jiang ENV ’22 in early February, students and community members are expressing concerns over public safety on campus and raising questions about whether the Yale Shuttle service is equitable.
Senior Vice President of Operations Jack Callahan told the News that the University was already engaged in improving public safety through the Yale Police Department and broader security forces, but that recent deaths in the city have added to the number of voices speaking up about public safety at Yale. He said that administrators have heard particularly from graduate students living in the East Rock area — the site of Jiang’s death — as well as from faculty, staff and parents.
“Everyone in the city has to understand that we are all suffering through trauma right now,” YPD Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 said. “There’s the trauma of being here at this university [during the pandemic] and living in the city while violent crime is significantly up.”
Near-term adjustments to public safety are largely led by YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins, Callahan explained. He added that the committee examining public safety at Yale is learning from the recent deaths to inform future recommendations.
Callahan said that Yale is looking at increasing the public safety officer presence in areas where people frequently report safety concerns — specifically around the outskirts of campus, in areas such as 25 Science Park and the medical school. Public safety officers, unlike police officers, are unarmed and do not wear police officer uniforms. No decisions regarding an increased officer presence have been made yet, but Callahan said the YPD will monitor crime statistics and adjust officer concentration according to that data.
Still, Campbell told the News that the YPD does not plan on making any substantive change with regard to public safety due to Jiang’s death. He said that any recent changes to police and public safety officer placement have been in response to the 88 recommendations from the commissioned Twenty-First Century Policing assessment of YPD.
Campbell added that YPD has only been shifting the placement of public safety officers, not of police officers, and that the changes predated Jiang’s death. These officer assignments are based on the areas’ population density and traffic. Though YPD and NHPD have a memorandum of understanding that allows the departments to call on each other’s officers when necessary, Campbell said YPD officers will not patrol outside of their agreed-upon boundaries.
In an interview with the News, University Provost Scott Strobel also said that since Jiang’s death, Yale has been considering extending existing shuttle routes, extending service hours and providing more fixed route “to-door” drop-offs.
In the short term, the University is considering extending the hours of some of its transit systems, Callahan said.
“It is also considering increasing the shuttles’ hours and the hours during which it drops passengers off directly at their destinations, and not at shuttle stops,” he added.
According to the Yale Shuttle’s website, nighttime Safe Ride services — which drop students off directly at their destination between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. — are currently suspended due to social distancing guidelines.
That became a problem for Tiffany Hsu ’16, an ER nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital who depended on Safe Rides to travel home after late night shifts.
Hsu told the News that during the daytime, she typically takes the blue line from her off-campus apartment in Prospect Hill to the hospital. Last October, when hoping to return from a shift at 3:30 a.m., she found that Safe Ride services had been suspended. Hsu said she had to stop working late night shifts because it was no longer safe or convenient for her to get home, even though her department was understaffed.
“It’s just not worth it trying to get home at 3:30 [a.m.] in the winter night,” said Hsu. Citing Jiang’s death, she added that she would feel safer if shuttles were “a little bit more reliable.”
Hsu said that when she tried to raise the issue with the Yale Shuttle service, she was informed that she needed to be placed on a list of students who were granted exemptions for Safe Ride services. Hsu said that when she emailed Ed Bebyn, Yale’s director of parking and transit, she did not receive a reply.
Bebyn did not respond to a request for comment.
Hsu said she was confused about why regular Yale Shuttles were able to run during the pandemic, considering that they typically carry more passengers than Safe Rides. Without the Yale Shuttle, Hsu said she needs to bike past the South Frontage and York intersection — the site of three traffic-related deaths in the past 12 years.
But Douglas Hausladen ’04, director of the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking, criticized Yale for having a “separate but equal” transit system in the first place. Yale does not contribute to the funding or functioning of Connecticut’s public transportation systems.
Hausladen said that if Yale, as one of the largest employers in the city, used local transit systems, it would bring more safety to all passengers.
“I can’t believe the university can afford a free taxi service for its members, and we have a $66M hole in our budget and struggle to fund [bus] service for the 10M rides that use the CT transit-New Haven service,” Hausladen wrote in an email to the News. “It’s truly sad that Yale and YNHH consistently decides to maintain their Separate but Equal transit systems for their community, and not for the rest of the New Haven community.”
University spokeswoman Karen Peart told the News that the Yale transit system supports the transportation of Yale community members around its New Haven and Orange campuses, serving a different purpose than the CT Transit system, which has broader needs.
“In the wake of the tragic shooting of Kevin Jiang, the University again engaged Yale community members, including Yale College and Yale Graduate student group leaders, to understand the transit system improvements and changes that might provide better safer service,” Peart wrote in an email to the News. “With this feedback the University will consider and implement options that extend and/or enhance Yale’s transit services to better serve the Yale community members’ specific needs.”
Though YPD has not increased its police officer presence after Jiang’s death, the department has worked with other groups to provide support for the community in the form of counseling services to students and East Rock residents. After Jiang’s shooting, officers joined NHPD and counselors from Yale Health to canvass East Rock’s Lawrence Street and offer services to residents.
Campbell said that YPD will not be changing its patrol boundaries and that YPD will play no role in any changes to shuttle services. But he urged students who feel unsafe to use services like SafeWalk, and he said that other safety mechanisms — like public safety officers and the YPD — will still work to keep students safe.
According to a transit mobility study by the city of New Haven in 2019, the CTtransit New Haven Division serves 10 million passengers every year.
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