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Yale's new police chief has message for campus community and all of New Haven

Anthony Campbell is the new chief of Yale University's police department.
File/Chion Wolf
Connecticut Public
Anthony Campbell is the new chief of Yale University's police department.

Anthony Campbell was sworn in last month as Yale University's new police chief.

For Campbell, it's a job informed by experiences as both a student at Yale — Campbell graduated from the university in 1995 — and as the former chief of the New Haven Police Department.

Campbell spoke with Morning Edition host Lori Mack about his vision for the department, challenges facing law enforcement and why he's more hopeful about policing than he's ever been.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Lori Mack: Let me start by asking what are some of your main on-campus safety concerns?

Chief Campbell: We have a population that transitions every four years. So [for] new students, making sure they understand they are going to school in a city and that the city of New Haven has all of the issues that any major city would have.

So biggest concerns are making sure that they have situational awareness, that they're not distracted by their phones, etc. And making sure they know ways to reach out for help — whether for an immediate incident occurring or for something that concerns them.

Mack: There have been some issues in the past. What's your vision for the Yale Police Department's relationship with the New Haven communities, especially since you're right in the middle of it?

Campbell: My vision for the department is to make sure that we are more approachable. Make sure people understand we are here to serve them, and make sure they understand we're here to do community policing with them, rather than to them.

Mack: Do Yale police coordinate or collaborate with New Haven police?

Campbell: Yes. I talk on a regular basis with Chief Jacobson, the new chief of police for the New Haven Police Department. Having been the chief of police for New Haven, I know almost all of the command staff as well as many of the officers. We collaborate on a regular basis.

Mack: How are the jobs similar?

Campbell: Both organizations are a paramilitary organizations: they've got the command structure, very similar to one another.

The difference is the community we primarily serve is students, faculty, [and] staff. In the city of New Haven, you're serving the entire community.

Our number one issue on campus is theft. In the city of New Haven, you have much larger-scale issues, including, unfortunately, gun violence.

Mack: Well, that was my next question. When you were a police chief in 2017, the city recorded a record-low homicide rate. Gun violence is up all over the country and not just in New Haven. And to be fair, the homicide rate isn't today, what it was this time last year in New Haven. What do you think is going on?

Campbell: I think it's a number of factors. I think the pandemic has definitely been a major contributor to the violence, particularly the gun violence that is occurring. I also think some of the underlying factors that really contribute to gun violence in this city and cities across the country are lack of education, poverty, lack of opportunity and also the availability of weapons. It's just too easy to get a firearm in this country.

Mack: To circle back to the New Haven Police Department for a second, the department has seen its share of controversy over the years, not unlike many city police departments. Most recently, several police officers were put on leave after a man was severely injured while riding in the back of a police van. There have been some domestic violence incidents among officers. It's been said that the revolving door of police chiefs has not been a good idea for the department.

When you were police chief, you attended conferences and met with police chiefs from all over the country. You've seen changes in policing over the years. Are these issues unusual? Are the incidents an indication of a larger problem?

Campbell: New Haven is unique in that it has had great turnover in its police chiefs and its command staff over the last 10 to 15 years.

I do believe one of the things Karl Jacobson has made it a point to state as a new police chief is that he's not going anywhere.

Additionally, for the longest period of time, New Haven was unique in that New Haven never funded its police department in the way that other police departments were getting funding.

That led to officers constantly getting certified and then after two years, going to other departments. People are looking to support their families and so when you have a starting rate of pay for officers, which was $44,500 when I was chief — and other departments were starting in the $70K or $80K [range], you couldn't even blame the officer for jumping ship.

But policing in general in his country, no matter where you are, is really going through a challenging time. When we look at recruitment, levels are down across the board. A lot of that has to do with the pandemic, as well as things that have happened in this country, such as the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, the shooting of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, and other situations that have been high-profile.

I think people have reached the point where they trust law enforcement, but they're demanding more accountability.

I'm more hopeful about policing than I have been in my 25 years of doing this job. Because I think that, although it is a challenge for us to recruit and retain people, the people we are getting now are people who are dedicated and truly vested to the profession.

I think they will help lift us up to a place where people understand we are truly about serving and protecting with the community — not simply doing community policing to the community.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.

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