Yale Daily News

A year after external consultancy firm 21st Century Policing Solutions proposed a series of reforms to the Yale Police Department, the University has made progress on their implementation, according to University President Peter Salovey and YPD Chief Ronnell Higgins. The changes, however, have failed to assuage the concerns of students who question the necessity of the YPD’s existence. 

In 2019, the University commissioned 21st Century Policing Solutions, or 21CP, to produce a report on the YPD’s policing practices. Last year, the University received the report, which detailed a series of potential reforms to the department. Over the course of the last year, the University and the YPD reviewed and implemented a number of those recommendations, Higgins said. However, some students on campus said that the New Haven Police Department can address issues of imminent violence instead of the YPD, and that they would feel safer if the University disarmed and ultimately abolished the department. However, Yale has no intention of doing so, Salovey said.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since the report’s release in 2020,” Higgins wrote in an email to the News. “Although a lot has been completed, much work remains. All the policy recommendations have been reviewed and most are implemented. Policing should serve as one component within a network of other care-based campus resources. I believe culturally responsive, localized approaches to policing are most desirable and produce the best outcomes.”

Jaelen King ’22, the former chair of Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, said that he hopes the push for police reform is not limited to the immediate aftermath of a tragedy like the police killing of George Floyd last year. 

For King, a Yale without the YPD would be more approachable and inclusive, as well as make some students feel safer. 

The YPD was founded in 1894 after Yale medical students were suspected of stealing cadavers from a New Haven graveyard, which caused clashes between students and city residents. The violence prompted two New Haven Police Department officers to volunteer as officers exclusively assigned to Yale’s campus. 127 years later, the YPD has grown into a force of 93 officers with two assistant chiefs — including a patrol unit, an emergency services unit and an investigative unit. 

Central among 21CP’s recommendations is the implementation of a differential response model, by which police officers would not be the sole responders to calls. 

“The adoption of a formalized differential response model will provide YPD officers with more time to engage in the type of community and problem-oriented policing that this report addresses in other recommendations as well as in core law enforcement and crime prevention activity,” the report reads. “It will also provide services to the Yale community that may be understood by that community as less intrusive.”

The report defines differential response as strategies which differentiate requests for police response based on what action would be most apt to the call. These strategies are supposed to provide a variety of options that extend beyond simply dispatching an officer. For example, a call made to the YPD complaining about loud noises could be directed to residential college officials or Yale Security, rather than to a YPD officer. The report also calls on the University to improve cooperation between Yale Security and the YPD.

Salovey affirmed the importance of differential response, claiming that not everything should be treated “like a police matter.” By diversifying the means of responding to YPD calls, Salovey said, the University can ensure that the “right expertise” is brought to every situation.

Salovey spoke of a committee on policing which is soliciting student input and suggestions on this issue. He added that the University will continue its reforms beyond the recommendations of the 21CP report. 

“An important point is we’re not going to stop just with the 21CP report,” Salovey said. “We’re going to be continually improving organization with respect to the YPD and Yale Security and keep trying to learn from the community on what is working and what is not.”

Still, some students on campus are continuing to call for a full abolition of the YPD. 

Callie Benson-Williams ’23, the current chair of BSDY, criticized 21CP’s report as failing to propose any fundamental changes to policing at Yale, saying that “it doesn’t really take into account the problems of YPD existing at all, and even the reforms are mainly about just funnelling more money into the police department.”

King agreed with Benson-Williams, saying that true change needs to be systematic and more than superficial level reforms. King said that he does not have high expectations that the University will implement such large-scale changes.

Benson-Williams added that one of the main shortcomings of the report is that it fails to address the distinction in jurisdiction between the YPD and New Haven Police Department. 

While touting the importance of Yale Security, however, Salovey reaffirmed his commitment to the maintenance of an armed police force.

“There is a plan to maintain an unarmed security force, that’s Yale Security,” Salovey said. “There is not at present a plan to disarm the Yale Police Department.”

Yale is not alone in having an armed campus police force. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 75 percent of all U.S. college campuses used armed officers in 2011–12. Nearly all college campuses — about 94 percent — authorized officers to carry sidearms and chemical or pepper spray.

Salovey argued that it is important to have an armed security force in order to protect students from armed intruders on campus.

In order to balance this importance with the dangers of an armed police force, Salovey said that the solution is “very clear protocols” surrounding the use of an armed response. Salovey also established metrics of successful reform to campus security, saying that he hopes for a police force that is able to de-escalate situations and one that is fully integrated into the Yale community.

BSDY, however, pointed to the infrequency with which the YPD responds to calls of violence as evidence that the department is unnecessary. According to a report from BSDY, only 1.34 percent of calls to the YPD from 2015-2019 were assault and weapons related. 

Outside of Yale College, graduate students have created Concerned and Organized Graduate Students, an organization that calls for YPD’s abolition.

“As a police and prison abolitionist, I and other members of the Yale community are calling for the complete abolition of the YPD, an armed campus police force that 1. Rarely (2-3% of the time) handles cases that involve intentional physical or psychological harm to persons, 2. Overwhelmingly fails to solve cases (92% failure to clear), and 3. perpetrates violence against Black and Brown Yale and New Haven residents,” Hannah Srajer GRD ’25, the co-founder of Concerned and Organized Graduate Students, wrote in an email to the News.

Srajer wrote that the YPD’s primary purpose is to protect Yale’s property and not its students, pointing to the fact that between 2015 and 2019, 55.85 percent of all crimes logged were related to protecting capital and assets.

She added that the majority of cases that YPD handles “would be better served by unarmed medical or emergency personnel.”

“The YPD must be replaced by a robust differential response system without police officers, and Yale must reinvest those millions of dollars into New Haven organizations that protect, serve, and uplift Black and Brown communities,” Srajer wrote.  

This issue came to the forefront in April 2019, when a YPD officer and a Hamden police officer shot at two unarmed black New Haven residents, Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon, as the couple were driving in their car. The incident occurred in Newhallville, a New Haven neighborhood over a mile from Yale’s campus, and set off protests in New Haven that called for the termination of the two officers and the disarmament of the YPD.

In October 2019, the Connecticut State’s Attorney concluded an investigation into the shooting and determined that the YPD’s jurisdiction matched that of the NHPD. The report stated that as the city of New Haven appointed YPD officers through its Board of Police Commissioners, the YPD officers have all the same powers as municipal NHPD officers. 

“I think that the community would be safer without the YPD,” Benson-Williams said. “I think almost everything should be done by Yale Security, and that there are some issues of actual, imminent violence that should just be handled by the New Haven Police Department.”

Higgins was appointed as chief of the YPD in 2011.

Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore in Trumbull College studying Ethics, Politics, and Economics