Yale Daily News

Over the summer, University President Peter Salovey announced the appointment of former Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins as associate vice president for public safety and community engagement and Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09 as his replacement as Yale police chief. 

In the June 21 message to the Yale community, Salovey and Senior Vice President of Operations Jack Callahan wrote that, in this new role, Higgins will collaborate with University leaders in security and mental health “with special consideration for circumstances that do not require the intervention of Yale police officers.” They said that this restructuring of public safety is part of Yale’s work to reform campus safety and policing amid continued concerns over police brutality across the nation.

“The leader of public safety should not be the chief of police,” Callahan told the News, “That’s a little bit of an old historical artifact.”

Higgins said he plans to work with student life and mental health leaders across the University to “ensure the most appropriate public safety resources respond to each situation.”

He added that he hopes to serve as a liaison to the New Haven community in his new role. He is working on developing a program to support the city’s traffic and pedestrian safety efforts and wrote that the University is committed to supporting the New Haven Police Department’s work in addressing gun violence. 

Campbell, who will replace Higgins, has previously served on YPD’s Executive Command Staff, and he has also taught a course at the Yale Divinity School entitled “Police Others as You Want to be Policed: The Changing Face of Community-Police-Ministry Relations in the Twenty-First Century.” 

In their message, Salovey and Callahan wrote that Higgins has been “nationally recognized as a model of community engagement” since he became police chief in 2011. They added that Higgins has been appointed to the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, the Police Officers Standards and Training Council. He currently serves on the executive board for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives for Connecticut. 

These changes come over two years after the University released a report titled “21st Century Policing Solutions,” or the 21CP report, which assessed policing at Yale and resulted in 88 recommendations, including the need for a differential response system where police officers are not the sole responders to calls. This report was followed up by another report from the Abolition Alliance in April 2020 which called for the abolition of the YPD.  

One year after the release of 21CP, Salovey said the University had no intention of abolishing or disarming the YPD. Today, Callahan told the News the University is in “very good shape” in terms of the progress made since the 21CP report. 

He said the University has formed a committee on policing and worked on developing a differential response strategy which is currently called the “fit for purpose response plan,” and sends different responders for different situations.

Still, members of the Yale community said the changes, though a start, were insufficient. BSDY Chair Callie Benson-Williams ’23 told the News that while she appreciates Yale’s consideration of the need for non-police responses and their potential plans for mental health professionals to address mental health crises, she still opposes the existence of the YPD. 

“I think it is also critical that it is clearly publicized what responder people should expect when calling for what types of situations,” Benson-Williams said. “It is dangerous for people to be surprised by police officers arriving when they expect medical professionals, and it is also dangerous for people to fear calling for help in crises because they are afraid of interactions with police.”  

Callahan shared additional reforms that public safety is taking, including the development of four strategic priorities by the committee on policing in December, including leveraging resources to address public safety needs, engaging the community, embracing continuous improvement and strengthening Yale’s public safety infrastructure. 

Callahan said that this past spring, the University gathered input from the campus community regarding public safety. It will continue to do so each year. He also wrote that the University’s public safety department has launched a “roadshow series” in partnership with the the Office of University Life in order for community members to “hear from diverse voices and reinforce the message that while ‘we may come from different backgrounds, we all share that everybody wants to feel safe.’”

Callahan said this past summer the University’s public safety department partnered with Meta to provide hate crime training for the YPD officers. 

Still, Callahan said “there’s more work to do” is incorporating IT with public safety, as public safety has historically run its own IT system but was recently brought into the central IT domain.

“If we’re going to be more nimble, and deploy the right resources to the right situation, we have to have better communication than what we’ve had,” Callahan told the News. 

This new role of assistant vice president for public safety and community engagement aims to increase collaboration between student life, mental health, Yale Security and YPD. 

Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews wrote to the News that Assistant Vice President Pilar Montalvo is leading the work of her office with the YPD and Mental Health and Counseling in helping to develop a “co-responder model” when responding to mental health crises. 

“This plan will allow the YPD to partner with a mental health professional or other university administrator in these sensitive situations,” Goff-Crews wrote to the News. “Development of the plan will involve significant discussion with many individuals on campus, including students.”

Even so, Campbell said that YPD officers still currently respond to mental health crises. He added, however, that all 91 officers are trained in crisis intervention.

Yet many students feel as though these changes are not enough, with groups such as Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, or BSDY, maintaining their calls to abolish the YPD. 

Benson-Williams said that if Yale Security and mental health professionals can adequately respond to the calls YPD responds to, this demonstrates the YPD is unnecessary. Further, she said, the “imbalance of power” created by the YPD’s power as a privately run police force will not be changed through outreach to the New Haven community. 

The YPD was established in 1894 as the nation’s first college police department. 

Sarah Cook covers student policy and affairs, and she previously covered President Salovey's cabinet. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, she is a first year in Grace Hopper majoring in Neuroscience.