Crossing Enemy Lines

At one in the morning on February 17, 1991, a Yale sophomore named Christian
Prince was shot to death on the steps of a church on Hillhouse Avenue. The
murder—a botched robbery attempt, according to investigators—reinforced
a belief already held by most members of the University community at the
time: that the City of New Haven was a terrifying place to go to school.
Yale’s administration, under siege and increasingly wary of New Haven’s
national notoriety, responded with a slew of new security measures. Lighting
was improved on dark streets, and 250 blue security phones were installed,
positioned so that one of the neon bulbs marking a phone’s location
would be visible from nearly every point on campus. Most dramatically, the
Yale Police Department underwent a complete overhaul. Within the next year,
the size of the force increased by more than 50 percent from its pre-1990
level; by the end of 1992, there were 80 armed police officers on Yale’s
campus.

But even as the University bolstered its fortifications against security
threats, that year also marked a turning point of another sort. Facing a
crisis in its relationship with New Haven and an epidemic of violent crime
edging ever closer to campus, Yale reformulated its tactics and did something
unexpected: Instead of further detaching itself from its surroundings, the
University began to take a more active role in city affairs. Under the leadership
of Yale President Richard Levin, who took office in 1993, Yale showed a
heightened interest in the surrounding residential neighborhoods and commercial
properties, and in New Haven’s overall vitality. Instead of further
building up its walls, it created porous borders—allowing, supporters
claim, the University’s positive influence to diffuse into the city
around it. A decade later, the fruits of this effort are readily apparent.
The areas around campus are, for better or worse, transformed, and the relationship
between Yale and New Haven is flourishing as never before.

This revolution in town-gown relations—with a corresponding change
in the way Yale thinks of and protects its own boundaries—presents
a new kind of challenge to the most recent incarnation of the Yale Police
Department. With blurred borders came the need for a more active role in
the community and a more holistic approach to security. Property acquisitions
near campus demanded new patrol routes and increased vigilance. According
to statistics the ypd has responded successfully: Since 1992, crime on campus
has fallen by more than half, violent crime by almost two thirds.

Yale Police Officers have full powers of arrest, the right to carry a weapon
(and use it when necessary), and full jurisdiction over all of New Haven.
They go through complete police training and accreditation and bear all
the rights and responsibilities of regular city cops. For all intents and
purposes, the ypd functions like any city police force, with one critical
difference: Its primary allegiance is to the University, a private and exclusive
entity within the city itself. The department is, in the words of University
Secretary Martha Highsmith, under whose administrative and financial control
it falls, a “private police force” with a broader public role.
Among university police departments, this makes the ypd unique; no other
campus police force can claim such extensive power or expansive jurisdiction.
Yale Police Chief James Perrotti sees this difference as essential to his
department’s ability to serve at a school like Yale in a city like
New Haven. “Other university’s departments are restricted to campus,”
he explains. “But we could not do the job we do without the authority
we have.”

In Perrotti’s office, there hangs a framed poster from a lecture at
the Yale School of Management by former New York City Police Commissioner
Howard Safir. Safir, who led the effort to clean up New York City in the
early 1990s, is an apostle of “community policing”—the idea
that cops can best combat crime by focusing on relatively minor violations
of the law, like jaywalking or property neglect, and proactively engaging
the communities which they serve. Some observers have called this the “broken
windows” theory; small signs of neglect lie, in an important sense,
at the root of serious crime. Perrotti, for one, is a passionate devotee
of the doctrine. Since taking over as Chief of the ypd in 1998 (after twenty
five years as a member of the force), he has practiced his own version of
“community policing” around the University. This spring, the ypd
will begin construction of a new headquarters at a recently purchased site
on Lock Street, straddling the campus’s northern boundary and the edge
of the Dixwell neighborhood. The move represents both an affirmation and
test of Perrotti’s approach. Though the new site is relatively close
to the department’s current home on Sachem Street—a crumbling
brick house on a dead end driveway—the move will mean an entirely new
kind of presence in a neighborhood that appears to have little to do with
the University.

Last November, Yale finalized a deal to pay just over $100,000 for the two-acre
lot at 63 Lock Street—an address that does not even lie within a current
ypd patrol route. For now, it is vacant and overgrown, littered with bricks
and broken bottles, and ringed by a sagging chain-link fence with holes
cut into it. Public housing projects and a boarded-up brick building stand
adjacent to the site, and the stone-walled expanse of Grove Street Cemetery
shields it from the Yale campus itself. At dusk, sirens drown out the chimes
of the carillon issuing from Harkness Tower, just barely visible to the
south. Except for the distant bustle of a pickup basketball game, the block
is empty.

But when Perrotti talks about the site’s future, he articulates an
idyllic vision of a bustling police station and community center—with
the emphasis, of course, on community. He elaborates: “We’re going
to be right in the Dixwell community. We hope to have some community meeting
space in the new building, so the community can come right to us. We want
to facilitate tutoring by Yale students.” He talks about youth athletic
leagues, fixing broken windows, and getting rid of junk cars. He describes
premature plans for community forums and block parties. He doesn’t
say much about muggings, stolen bikes, laptop theft, or breaches in dorm
security though. When pressed, he shrugs, turns his palms upward, and explains,
matter-of-factly, “Partnering with the community solves more problems.”

The roots of the ypd are found in the same kind of town-gown tensions that
persist today. In September of 1894, two New Haven police officers walked
onto the Yale campus for the first time. This incursion was, by all accounts,
an outrage—a violation of an implicit code establishing the University
as sacrosanct territory, exempt from the power of all external authorities.
The police action had come in response to a rash of corpse thefts from New
Haven cemeteries by Yale medical students, culminating a period of general
hostility between town and gown. It was by no means a goodwill gesture,
and the two officers, Jim Donnely and Bill Wiser, came with the charge to
subdue the student body and establish the city’s policing authority
on previously exempt territory. Wiser recorded those tense early days in
his memoirs. “No policemen before this time had ventured on these sacred
grounds,” he wrote, “and the campus had come to be considered
a safe place of refuge for students fleeing from the wrath of city police.”
Students reacted with expected resentment to this invasion of their “charmed
and secret enclosure.” They clashed with Donnely and Wiser over the
restriction of practices like “tearing down the buildings for fire-wood”
after football victories and “setting fire to the newly-erected electric
light poles” that “shone into their rooms and kept them awake.”

Gradually, however, Donnely and Wiser saw their standing among students
improve, and their role evolved accordingly. No longer treated as insidious
invaders, the officers shifted their focus from subduing students on campus
(though the “boozing habit” would remain a problem throughout
their tenure) to keeping outsiders away. To the University, this new task
proved an infinitely more valuable service than the original. There was,
according to Wiser, no shortage of “vagrant peddlers, and other objectionable
persons” who posed a threat to the well-being of the students in their
charge. But, he boasts, “We impressed upon their minds the inadvisability
of any future visits from them and their friends.” Ultimately, these
services proved valuable enough that the University persuaded Donnely and
Wiser to resign from the New Haven Police Department and establish a private
police force on campus—the earliest incarnation of the ypd, with the
explicit goal of keeping outsiders out.

Far removed from these beginnings, the most recent revolution in the department
came in response to the Prince murder. At the time, the New Haven Police
Department was undergoing a transformation of its own under Chief Nick Pastore,
who had taken its helm in 1990 and served until 1997. “Our strategy
was to better engage the public. We faced issues head on with community
policing, and Yale came on board,” recounts Pastore, now a Police Policy
Fellow at the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and an outspoken advocate
of the tactics of community policing. In subsequent years, guided by Pastore
and then-ypd Chief Al Guyet, acrimony between the departments gave way to
close cooperation. “There was this symbiotic relationship that became
a real friendship,” Pastore continued. “We had commonality. Our
vision was their vision.”

Now, the hour-to-hour functioning of both departments depends on constant
communication and frequent collaboration. The ypd’s dispatch system,
run out of its Communications Center in Phelps Gate, is linked to the nhpd’s,
and the forces share resources and information on a daily basis. Most of
Yale, however, remains the ypd’s domain, a swathe across the center
of New Haven with other enclaves around the City—a total of 910 acres
that includes Yale buildings, athletic fields, a golf course, and the growing
number of commercial properties owned and run by the University. Most of
the patrol work is done by regular officers in cruisers, but recent years
have seen a growing emphasis on bike cops—there are five patrolling
the campus on any given night—and plainclothes officers. Already, the
six regular ypd beat areas cover a territory that extends from Howe Street
to the New Haven Green, and from the far edge of the Medical School to Highland
Street, two blocks past the Divinity School. Yale police, however, carry
the right of force and the threat of arrest in all of New Haven. With the
opening of the new Lock Street headquarters and the continued expansion
of Yale’s commercial holdings, the department’s regular domain
will expand to include an even greater portion of the City.

When Chief Perrotti discusses policing, he peppers his sentences with words
like “community,” “willingness,” “caring,”
and “understanding.” A wooden placard that occupies the center
of his desk proclaims, “Respect is Mutual.” Poised behind it,
elbows on the surface and hands pressed together in front of his lips, Perrotti
elaborates on the philosophy behind the ypd’s strategy: Involvement
in neighborhoods and communities—maintaining a constant presence in
people’s day-to-day lives—is the best way to reduce overall crime.
The reality in which the ypd works, however, means that its version of this
strategy looks considerably different than it would in New York City. Though
it is primarily responsible for property owned by the University, confronting
crime at the source means focusing efforts more and more on areas outside
the campus itself. Perrotti explains this idea with ease: “You have
to have some positive involvement in the community because there’s
no wall around Yale. You have to build a balance.” The new Dixwell
headquarters is a marquis development in this respect.

Aside from “community,” the phrase that Perrotti throws around
most when discussing the move to Dixwell is “quality of life”—the
core value of community policing. He explains, “In traditional policing,
you focus on the big stuff. Here, it’s a much more proactive approach,
because we’re focusing on quality of life issues.” Perrotti offers
a scenario to consider. There is a string of broken down cars on a block.
The owners of the cars are not necessarily breaking the law, but the cars
give the impression of neglect, disorder, and danger. That impression, according
to the holistic systems approach of community policing, turns a neighborhood
epidemic of broken down cars into a police problem—one which demands
preemptive action and perhaps a bit of courteous but forceful persuasion.
Perrotti has no shortage of alternate examples: “Take public intoxication.
Most people don’t want to walk down the street and be bothered by someone
who has had too much to drink—that’s a quality of life issue too.
Traffic violations, same thing . . . It’s a total strategy.”

This prospective level of police involvement in the Dixwell community goes
along nicely with other University and city plans for the neighborhood.
The nearby Elm Haven public housing complex is being demolished in favor
of a new mixed-income development, and Yale has toyed with the idea of buying
another adjacent lot for townhouse development. Pastore, for one, calls
the move to Lock Street “a stroke of genius on the part of the administration
and the Yale Police Department. It’s time for Yale to really get down
with the issues of neighborhood living and make the neighborhood tranquil
and stable.” This intention, echoed by Perrotti, Yale’s administration,
and New Haven city government, is community policing in its purest form.
With the Yale Police no longer simply a security force for University properties,
the move to Dixwell will mark the culmination of a trend—one which
will, if all goes according to planned, force the ypd into the role of community
steward in a community which is not its own.

At a public meeting earlier this year, ypd Lieutenant Michael Patten was
accused of being part of the “military arm of the Yale Corporation.”
The accusation is one the ypd knows well, and which—wrapped up with
sensitive and sticky issues of race, class, and Yale’s place in New
Haven—it has had considerable experience trying to counter over the
last several years.

The most recent high profile incident came during a Yale Law School minority
recruitment weekend last spring. At two am on a weekend night, several Yale
police cars went in pursuit of two young men in “baggy pants”
who had attempted to steal an air conditioner. On Chapel Street, Harold
McDougall, a black student who attended the event, and his host were leaving
a party when a squad car stopped in the street next to them. Two officers
got out and demanded id from the two students. “I was in a brown jacket,
an orange sweater, and khaki corduroys—that were not baggy by the way,”
McDougall remembers. “And the cops said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s
the description.’ What I later found out was that the description that
they gave was ‘men in baggy pants,’ and that was all they needed
to stop us and question us for 20 minutes.” The eyewitness’ description
did not mention race.

The problems raised by the incident last spring are not specific to New
Haven; nor do they allow for easy blame to be cast on the police force.
“There was considerable unrest from people of color who felt uniquely
challenged,” says Pastore of the period when he was nhpd chief. “Racial
profiling was a huge issue on campus.” Jelani Lawson, a 1996 graduate
of Yale College who served as Ward 2 Alderman before leaving New Haven last
year, recalls an undergraduate and aldermanic career marked by periodic
harassment by the ypd. “Let’s say I received less than the average
deference accorded to members of the University community,” he says.
“In concrete terms, it means that I was asked for id while entering
college gates. It means that I was harassed while standing on a corner waiting
to get a haircut. It means that I always had to have my Yale id, because
if I were for some reason stopped by the cops, I had to have my ‘Get
Out of Jail Free’ card.”

This perception of rampant racial profiling and mistreatment of actual
and suspected outsiders persists in the New Haven community, despite the
ypd’s fervent denial and ongoing efforts to counter it. Recently, the
University voluntarily agreed to keep statistics on traffic stops around
campus and submit the records to the Chief State’s Attorney’s
office, a requirement of public police departments from which private departments
are exempt. Those statistics, according to Highsmith, disprove claims of
favoritism or profiling. Perrotti, when confronted by this type of criticism,
points to the tremendous diversity of the ypd—17% of officers are female,
and a quarter are racial minorities, far outstripping the national average.
“We are a very diverse work force, and that is a tremendous benefit,
particularly when you’re dealing with issues on the street,” he
claims. “We just don’t have problems with race and gender. That
reflects our values.”

But community activists have long dismissed this sort of claim as empty
rhetoric. Emma Jones is a New Haven resident who has fought for the establishment
of an all-citizen police review board since her son Malik was gunned down
by police officers in 1997. As head of the Malik Organization, Jones says,
“I have had a number of complaints, pads of paper where people shared
that just because they were African-Americans or had a certain hairstyle
or drove a certain car, Yale police—and they seem to be worse than
the New Haven police—gave them bogus tickets, or stopped them for no
reason, or gave them motor-vehicle violations.” Jones has met with
Perrotti and other representatives of the ypd in the past, but claims that
few of their promises have been reflected in action. Voicing a widely held
belief, she charges, “They’re shielded from any kind of scrutiny
because it’s Yale.” Even Pastore, an ardent supporter of the ypd,
acknowledges the ubiquity of this view. “Much of the community feels
like they’re still not engaged, like it’s”—here, he
slips into the tone of either mock reverence or impending doom that many
New Haveners employ when referring to the University—“still Yale.”
Half-jokingly, Pastore continues, “If I assigned six undercover agents
to Yale for six months, I would make more narcotics arrests than I make
in Dixwell in a year. When you put that in terms of incidence of crime,
it would be far higher on campus than in any neighborhood.” He adds,
of course, “That’s not to say that I ever would.” But the
point resonates in a neighborhood like Dixwell, and this resonance will
be something to contend with as the perceived agent of privilege, wealth,
and whiteness moves its forces into a poor and almost exclusively black
community.

Underneath the discussion of “cooperation,” “understanding,”
and “engagement,” community policing is about one thing: the perception
of safety. Taking that perception seriously, in fact, has been the greatest
success of the strategy, and one that Perrotti and the ypd wholeheartedly
adopt. “Even if people are safe, if they don’t feel safe, then
it’s a problem,” Perrotti acknowledges, “Sometimes perception
is reality.” In that respect, the success of the ypd in Dixwell will
have as much to do with factors outside of its control as with its own behavior.
Above all, however, it will require that the ypd and the University as a
whole take seriously the sense of injustice and mistreatment rather than
sticking by numbers and complaint records alone. In the past, Perrotti has
been known to refuse interviews about racial profiling accusations, and
the University’s often vapid official rhetoric remains unconvincing
to large portions of New Haven. But in community policing, as Pastore says,
“If it’s a perception, it must be dealt with.” Over the course
of the last decade, the University’s heightened interest in the city
has stemmed from the belief that what is good for New Haven is good for
Yale. As the empty lot in Dixwell transforms into the headquarters of the
ypd, the neighborhood must begin to believe that the reverse is also true.
As Pastore cautions, “When Yale opens up its doors on Lock Street,
it has to remember that it’s a visitor and it should act like a visitor
who wants to be welcomed.”

Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, a junior in Berkeley College, is a
editor-in-chief for TNJ.