History of the YPD

Established in 1894, the Yale Police Department is the oldest university police department in the country. The department’s origins date back to when two New Haven Police Department members, Bill Wiser and Jim Donnelly, volunteered to be exclusively assigned to the Yale campus. At the time, relations between town and gown were particularly strained. The tension came to a head when a rumor was circulated that Yale Medical School students had been removing recently buried bodies from local cemeteries for use as cadavers. This rumor resulted in a mass riot in which many students and townspeople were injured, at which point Bill and Jim were assigned to the Yale campus. 

In his 1914 book Yale Memories, Bill Wiser wrote:

“In 1894, Jim Donnelly and I were assigned by the chief of the New Haven police to duty the Yale campus. No policeman before this time had ventured on these sacred grounds, and the campus had come to be considered a place of refuge for students fleeing from the wrath of the city police. The general belief on the force was that the Yale boys would never permit two policemen to live on campus.”

At first students were skeptical of the new officers stationed on campus. When the first electric lighting was installed on Old Campus, students rebelled and attempted to get rid of them. They would throw rocks and other things at the light bulbs; they complained that the lights did not let them sleep in their rooms. Bill and Jim offered to paint black a side of the light mount and earned the trust of the students who were always wary of the police officers on campus as agents of the New Haven Police Department in those early years.

Since then, Yale University and the City of New Haven have changed in many ways, and the YPD has grown and improved relations between the two. The department has grown from two members to a full squad with 87 sworn officers. YPD has served the University in many ways, from maintaining day-to-day safety tasks to ensuring the well-being of the many guests that visit the University. 

Evolution of the Yale Police Department: 120 Years of Serving the Yale University Community

Yale University’s Police Department recently observed its 120th anniversary in September 2015. Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins and Lieutenant William Holohan reflect on the changes over time in the YPD, and on the current challenges and pleasures of serving the Yale community. 

This gallery highlights the 120-year history of the YPD.