Four years after police shot at two unarmed Black people in New Haven, students activists express frustration with limited YPD reforms
While Black Students for Disarmament at Yale has called for defunding and dismantling the nation’s first college police department, the University has stuck with smaller reforms.
Hundreds of Yale students and New Haveners flooded the streets of downtown New Haven on April 19, 2019, protesting the police shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon.
The shooting occurred three days prior, when Hamden police officer Devon Eaton and Yale police officer Terrance Pollock fired 16 shots at Washington and Witherspoon — two unarmed Black people who were driving in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood.
In the wake of the shooting, students formed an organization called Black Students for Disarmament at Yale. Alongside New Haven community members, students in the group demanded that the Yale Police Department fire Pollock and release body camera footage of the shooting. BSDY also called for the abolition of the YPD and began circulating a petition titled “Defund and Dismantle YPD” in 2020. As of May 2023, nearly three years after its launch, the petition has amassed nearly 9,000 signatures.
“Yale University already has Yale Security patrolling campus, offering escorts and safe rides to students, and overseeing the blue phones and card reader systems,” the petition reads. “Very bluntly, why does the YPD exist? The organization has the same goals as Yale Security, the same power as the New Haven Police Department, but, most importantly, none of their accountability or oversight.”
While student activists advocated for defunding the YPD, the University promised reform. Yale contracted police consulting firm 21CP Solutions, which published a report on the YPD in March 2020. The firm’s recommended reforms included establishing a “differential response model” in which the YPD could continue to handle instances of theft or violence but would pass on other emergency calls not requiring police force to security or medical personnel instead.
After 21CP released its report, University President Peter Salovey formed a committee on policing, composed of five Yale administrators, to oversee the implementation of the reforms.
In an interview with the News in October 2020, Salovey dismissed activist’s calls for abolition. “Everything is on the table, except for one thing,” he said. “We’re not going to abolish the Yale Police Department.”
In March 2021, a coalition of activist groups, including BSDY, published an analysis of the YPD under the name Abolition Alliance at Yale. In the report, the Alliance wrote that the YPD “primarily protects Yale property, not Yale students,” pointing out that between 2015 and 2019, just 2.46 percent of all crimes logged by the YPD were assault and weapons related, and the majority of cases involved the protecting property and assets.
The report also criticized the YPD as being ineffective. In studying the YPD’s clearance rate, or the ratio of cases a department handles in which charges are brought to all the cases the department opens, the report found that between 2011 and 2018, the YPD’s average annual clearance rate was 8.05 percent, compared to the New Haven Police Department’s average clearance rate of 21.68 percent.
“By divesting from inefficient institutions that cause harm and investing in the communities the YPD has harmed, we can keep one another safe,” the report read.