Yale police union distributes flyers alleging a crime-ridden New Haven during contract negotiations
After handing out “Survival Guides” during first-year move-in, the Yale Police Benevolent Association drew criticisms of “fear-mongering” from community members and University and city officials. The union handed out similar leaflets during its four most recent collective bargaining periods.
Courtesy of Len Speiller
Yale’s police union greeted first-years and their families on move-in day with “Survival Guide” leaflets, warning of increasing crime in New Haven and advising that students avoid leaving their dorms after 8 p.m. — at least the fifth time the union has publicly branded New Haven as a dangerous city while contract negotiations are underway.
Members of the Yale Police Benevolent Association — the union — circulated two types of pamphlets, one claiming that murders, burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have skyrocketed in recent months and the other listing examples of violent crime in New Haven from February to July. Attesting that “some Yalies do manage to survive” in the Elm City, the union adorned the flyers with an illustration of the Grim Reaper wishing them “Good luck.”
The most recent YPBA contract was ratified in October of 2018 and expired on June 30. The union has been in contract negotiations with the University since February, according to YPBA President Mike Hall.
During a press conference outside Woolsey Hall on Tuesday, Yale Police Department Chief Anthony Campbell stood alongside city officials, including Mayor Justin Elicker, condemning the “inflammatory” language of the pamphlets. Campbell said that the YBPA “brought shame upon their union” through their “fear-mongering.”
“I, too, support and have supported in the past unions’ rights to organize and to seek a good and fair contract,” said Campbell. “But it must never be done at the expense of relations and the expense of the citizens of this great city, New Haven. And that’s what they did… I want to make it abundantly clear they do not represent the spirit of the Yale University Police Department.”
YPBA’s history of flyering
During Tuesday’s press conference, Campbell said he learned over a phone call with Hall that the union decided to distribute the leaflets after becoming dissatisfied with certain elements of the proposed contract.
Campbell said he believes the union’s executive board to be behind the flyering, as he was told of other officers who said they had no prior knowledge of the guide. Hall did not immediately respond to the News’ request to confirm the phone call.
“[Hall] said they had no intention of doing this,” Campbell said during the press conference. “But when the University approached them with their proposed dollar amount for the contract, they were offended and that members of the board of the union decided that something needed to be done. This is what they decided to do.”
Hall denied any relationship between the contract negotiations and the flyers to the News and to other news outlets. He told the News that the YPBA typically distributes leaflets during first-year move-in and other events to serve as an “introduction to the YPBA and what we do.”
Due to the pandemic, Hall said he could not speak to the last time the union handed out such materials. He did not offer previous records indicating that the YPBA handed out such leaflets in recent non-contract negotiation years, nor could the News find previous media coverage to this end.
According to past coverage by the News, the YPBA distributed flyers about student safety in the past four active contract negotiations with the University, including the leaflets from this week.
The union warned prospective students and their families of crime in New Haven at least twice in April 2018. This was the most recent period of contract negotiation between the union and the University. At the time, debate had been underway for two years, with the union agreeing to monthly contract renewals.
On April 7 that year, the YPBA distributed leaflets to admitted students entering the Shubert Theater for a Bulldog Saturday opening address. In red capital letters, the flyer warned that “Yale’s campus may not be as safe as you think.” The headline of a Breitbart article — “Report Claims Yale’s Campus Almost as Dangerous as Detroit for Women” — and a reference to a Guardian story titled “Yale Police Investigating Second Sexual Assault on Campus in Four Day Span” were also included on the pamphlet.
Two weeks later, while students waited to hear from University President Peter Salovey in Woolsey Hall during Bulldog Days — the University’s primary recruitment event for newly admitted potential undergraduates — approximately 70 union members protested outside of the Schwarzman Center, holding signs that read “YALE COPS WANT A CONTRACT NOW.” The YPBA additionally distributed leaflets detailing an armed robbery that took place in Timothy Dwight College a few days earlier, as well as other past incidents of violent crime nearby. Describing New Haven as “at times… a dangerous place,” former President of the YPBA Richard Simons called on students and parents in a personal letter within the pamphlet to support the union during its contract dispute.
The YPBA also handed out pamphlets to build support among students and families during the previous contract negotiation cycle, which began in February 2010, according to the News’ past coverage. During the October 2010 Parents’ Weekend, about 50 YPD officers distributed roughly 1,000 leaflets highlighting 12 recent crime headlines. The leaflets described the YPD’s role in protecting students from New Haven crime.
Negotiations with the University continued into the spring of 2011, including during that year’s Bulldog Days. In language similar to what would come in future demonstrations years later, like during 2018’s Bulldog Days, the YBPA passed out pamphlets characterizing New Haven as “at times… a dangerous place,” including an updated list of headlines of past crimes. The union distributed pamphlets to prospective students and families outside of the Welcome showcase in Shubert Theater on April 13 and before and after the welcome address in Woolsey Hall on April 14.
During these contract negotiations, the YBPA accused the administration of not allowing proper investigations for certain crimes, potentially including allegations of sexual misconduct. Yale denied these charges at the time and noted that crime at Yale had decreased over the past three years, despite the “alarmist nature” of the pamphlets.
Prior to the contract negotiations of the 2010s, there were contract negotiations between Yale and YBPA in 2002, which lasted about 18 months. The News reported that in October 2003, during the Freshman Assembly and the Parents’ Weekend concert, roughly 10 officers distributed leaflets following an “unproductive” bargaining session, as described by union leaders. While the contents of the pamphlet are not described in the article, a YPD officer was quoted saying that it concerned the “safety of [the] kids.”
Many of the criticized language and imagery in the handout — including the lines “Some Yalies do manage to survive,” “Stay off the streets after 8 p.m.,” “Good luck,” and the illustration of the Grim Reaper — seem to have been lifted from a flyer distributed to tourists by New York City police and firefighter unions in 1975. Some of the phrases were repeated verbatim. The unions released the “Survival Guide” titled “Welcome to Fear City” as a response to the city’s proposed dismissal of thousands of law enforcement officers and firefighters to alleviate a fiscal crisis.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Campbell said he was “disgusted that [the union has] chosen to take this path” during the beginning of contract negotiations. He added that the flyers “put a strain” on town-gown relations.
New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson said during the press conference that he and the New Haven police union were shocked by the flyers. Michael Lawlor, who is one of New Haven’s police commissioners and also spoke at the press conference, said he thought the message of the flyers was “counterproductive.”
“If this image of a dystopian hellscape were accurate, it would be an extraordinary self-own by the Yale Police,” said Lawlor. “But it’s not true. This tactic has got to be the most boneheaded tactic I have ever seen.”
A picture of crime statistics in New Haven
Crime statistics used in one of the YPBA’s flyers drew further backlash from city and University officials. In the “Survival Guide” flyer, the union writes that in the “seven month period ending July 23, 2023, murders have doubled, burglaries are up 33% and motor vehicles are up 56%” compared to the same time period last year. The flyer also said that in downtown New Haven, where Yale’s main campus is located, “robberies are incidents of gun fire on the rise” in that same time span.
According to the New Haven Police Department’s publicly available Year-To-Date CompStat covering Jan. 1 to July 23, these claims are accurate. For example, in downtown New Haven, robberies with a firearm have increased from one by late July of last year to three this year. Citywide, at this time last year, there were seven homicides, and there have been 14 so far in 2023.
While City spokesman Len Speiller acknowledged that the specific statistics were accurate in the New Haven Register, he said that the union cherry-picked data to “construct a false narrative.” According to the Register article, other crimes including non-fatal shootings, reported robberies and larcenies from vehicles have decreased or stayed at similar rates. The CompStat data also shows that overall violent crime rates have also decreased.
Elicker additionally accused the union of selecting data to promote a “narrative of our city that is inaccurate and totally offensive.”
At the press conference, Elicker emphasized that, over the past approximately three years, overall crime rates have decreased. Citywide, violent crime has decreased by 29.2 percent, property crime by 7.6 percent and overall crime by 18.8 percent, according to Elicker.
The mayor added that downtown New Haven, where Yale’s main campus is located, is one of the city’s neighborhoods that sees less reported crime. Violent crime in particular has decreased on Yale’s campus, according to an official statement released by Ronnell Higgins, the Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Community Engagement, the day after YPBA’s flyering campaign. Higgins shared that robberies are down 30 percent from the past year and that the most reported category of crime on campus is the theft of laptops, cell phones and motorized scooters that are left “unattended and unsecured.”
Under the federal Clery Act, universities are required to publicly disclose certain crime statistics. Crime statistics recorded by the YPD from 2017 to 2021 — broken down by on-campus residential, overall on-campus, non-campus and public property location — are available on a designated University website.
The most recent 2022 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report shows crime levels fluctuating between 2019 and 2021. Total robberies increased from seven in 2019 to 22 in 2020, decreasing to 13 in 2021. Total aggravated assaults decreased from 12 to nine between 2019 and 2020 and continued to decrease to five in 2021. Total rapes decreased from 2019 to 2020, 24 to 18, and increased in 2021 with 28 total. Motor vehicle thefts decreased in 2020 but returned to 2019 levels in 2021. In those three years, one murder on public property was recorded. The report does not seem to differentiate between crimes committed by New Haven residents and those committed by Yale students or community members.
Hall noted that city and University officials did not comment on the security tips and the descriptions of recent violent crimes that appeared on both flyers. He told the News that those sections were “matters of record and irrefutable.”
Yalies continue speaking out against University police
The Yale College Democrats published a statement on their Instagram account on Wednesday denouncing the union’s flyers and “fear mongering tactics.” The organization pointed to a 2021 report from various Yale organizations, including the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project and Black Students for Disarmament at Yale, that found that the YPD significantly over-exaggerated calls per year.
Yale Dems wrote to the News saying that it supports “at the very least… radical reform” of the YPD’s funding and organizational structure and encourages first-years to “learn to respect, celebrate, and give back to the New Haven community, rather than blindly fear it.”
“The false narrative that New Haven is dangerous and crime-ridden, to the point where students should not feel safe walking on the streets after 8 PM or taking public transportation, is inherently rooted in a history of classist and prejudiced treatment by Yale towards New Haven,” Yale Dems wrote to the News. “By stereotyping all New Haveners, many of whom are from low-income communities of color, in one broad stroke as dangerous and backwards, the YBPA has chosen to attack and degrade the character of New Haveners, instead of giving back and investing in resources to actually make the city better and safer for everyone.”
While stating that University officials “rightfully denounced” the leaflets, Yale Dems questioned the “glaring lack of accountability and oversight” on the part of the Yale administration and YPD leadership for the flyers to be distributed at all.
Yale Dems’ stance reflects growing public dissatisfaction with the YPD among Yale students and the members of the New Haven community. For example, Yale students began calling for the abolition of the YPD in 2020 due to a “history of violence against communities of color,” and they continue to do so.
In 2019, hundreds of students, residents and activists protested when Yale and Hamden police fired 16 rounds through Stephanie Washington’s car during a traffic stop that April, leaving her with extensive injuries including a fractured spine.
The 2021 report, titled “It’s Time for Abolition,” analyzed YPD daily crime logs, YPD annual calls for service logs, statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, and other sources and determined that “by their own standards, the YPD fails to protect and serve Yale and New Haven community members.”
The authors of the report cited the YPD’s lower-than-average annual clearance rate, 8.05 percent, compared to the New Haven Police Department’s 21.68 percent and Connecticut’s overall 23.43 percent, among other metrics. A case is generally “cleared” when someone is charged, arrested, and turned over to a court for prosecution, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Clearance rates are oftentimes used to measure effectiveness within a police department.
When the News covered the release of the report in April 2021, neither the YPD nor the University responded to requests for comment.
Higgins told the News that the union’s most recent flyering campaign “set back efforts that have been in the works for years” to improve relationships with the campus and New Haven communities.
“In policing, the actions of a few paint a picture for many,” Higgins said. “There are many officers right now doing amazing work, and people need to know they are still committed. This was not a well-thought-out approach [by the union].”
Founded in 1988, the YPBA ratified its last contracts after 28 months of negotiations with the University.
Megan Vaz contributed reporting.
This is a developing story and will be updated.