Community policing - Pizza, patience, and understanding

November 30, 2021

Yale Public Safety prides itself on improving communication and outreach with the Yale and New Haven communities. As a result, many programs are in place by design, while some encounters happen organically.

In June, there were reports of adolescents riding bicycles around New Haven, creating hazards for pedestrians and drivers. They rode against traffic, kicked buses, filmed it, and posted the videos on social media. One afternoon, they rolled onto Hillhouse Avenue, where they were confronted by the Yale Police, who tried speaking with them. The teenagers proceeded to kick at the officers’ car and bicycles, and a foot chase ensued. While this situation could have ended poorly, it turned into a positive connection over pizza and sodas.Officer Matt Franco making some friends over pizza and sodas.

One of the teenagers had dropped his bicycle during the chase. Later, with his parents, he came to the Yale Police Station to retrieve the bike. Unfortunately, it was discovered during this visit that he and another teenager had assaulted two Yale students several days earlier—slapping them as they rode by on their bicycles. The parents expressed how they were unhappy with their children’s behavior but have been unsuccessful in stopping the unruly behavior. While the two were arrested for their crime, there was concern about a possible bad reaction from the remaining group.

Two weeks later, the bicycle crew cycled back to Hillhouse Avenue. Officer Franco responded to the call and started by speaking to them and asking some simple questions. He asked why they came to this street and found out they liked riding there because it was wide, shady, there was low car traffic, and they could do their bike tricks. During this conversation, Officer Franco told them that they should be respectful of people walking or driving by and, after a while, offered to take them out for a pizza—treating them with his own money.

From this positive interaction, there were no more incidents the rest of the summer. While Officer Franco took the time to engage them, listening to their stories, they, in turn, got to know him. “It’s these person-to-person interactions that I feel makes all the difference. For our officers, we get to listen to and know more personally the people in our community, and for these individuals, they get to see the humanity of our officers. It’s a beautiful thing,” said Assistant Chief Anthony Campbell.

The Patrol Division is the most visible component of the department, providing law enforcement, general and emergency assistance, public information, and more. The patrol officers are the first and sometimes only contact most individuals have with police departments. Over the years, the Yale police have developed many community outreach programs, committees, and comprehensive officer training, to ensure an accountable agency.

“Police departments in general, and even across the country, don’t let the public know that it is okay for them to ask for help. We talk about 911 all the time, but we do not disclose a non-emergency number for the police department for those things that we can address. We want parents, teachers, and schools to be aware of any available resources before something bad happens. If we know about it, we can try to fix it before a crime occurs. The interaction Matt had with these teenagers is a perfect example of that,” said Assistant Chief Campbell.