New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker denounced fliers that were handed out to Yale students warning them that New Haven was a dangerous city. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Along with the large “Welcome to Yale” banners hung outside residential halls, first-year students at Yale University were greeted this week with flyers from the university’s police union that warned them of the “shockingly high” crime rate in New Haven and urged them to stay indoors after 8 p.m., stay in groups and to be on high alert.

“The incidence of crime and violence in New Haven is shockingly high, and it is getting worse. During the seven month period ending in July 23, 2023, murders have doubled, burglaries are up 33% and motor vehicle thefts are up 56%,” the flyers read. “Nevertheless, some Yalies do manage to survive New Haven and even retain their personal property.”

Officials could not say how many flyers were distributed, but police and city leadership said they were handed out during move-in Sunday morning and were an act of retaliation from the Yale police department’s union, the Yale Police Benevolent Association, during negotiations between them and the university. 

“Once I learned of the flyers, I called the president of the union and said, ‘What in the world is going on?’ and he expressed to me that they did not have plans to do this, but when the university approached them with their proposed dollar amount for the contract, they were offended, and that members of the board of the union decided that something needed to be done and this is what they decided to do,” Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell said at a press conference on Tuesday. “I don’t think it was a good decision.”

Copy of flyers handed out by the Yale Police Union to Yale students urging them to stay safe as violent crime is “shockingly high.” Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Campbell added that some members of the union’s executive board decided to distribute the flyers. He did not identify them by name.

“I’ve been told by multiple members of my department who have interacted with officers, who found out later that these flyers had been distributed, that they had no knowledge that the union planned on doing this,” Campbell said. “That is another problem that I think the union really will have to address with its members. No members of the command staff were aware that this was a plan for them to be distributed in this way.”

Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven Police Chief Karl Jacobson, Yale Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Community Engagement Ronnell Higgins and members of the New Haven Board of Alders also attended the news conference and denounced the flyers.

“When you welcome someone to your community, you embrace them, and you support them, and you ensure that they are successful here,” Elicker said. “You don’t promote fear. You don’t promote misinformation. You don’t mislead people about the home that is their new home. [The Yale Police Union] handed out unbelievably offensive flyers with misrepresented information — scaring Yale students — and promoting a narrative of our city that is inaccurate and totally offensive. And to do this is childish and selfish. I fully respect a union’s right to organize, to advocate … but you don’t have to put someone else down to raise yourself up.”

“Young people are coming to the city for the first time. That’s appalling. You don’t try to scare them into getting a better contract,” Jacobson added.

Union president Mike Hall did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The status of negotiations is unclear.

A banner welcoming incoming students to Yale on Aug. 22, 2023. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

Various students on campus Tuesday said they didn’t directly see the flyers but had heard about the controversy.

“I’m just a little bit scared, but it’s OK. By just taking tours and walking around, I’m feeling pretty comfortable,” said Ruoxi Teng, a first-year graduate student who came to Yale from Beijing.

“For me, living in New York for a year and a half, that’s a more dangerous place than here. So when I first came here, I felt like, ‘Wow it’s such a quiet small town — and friendly,” added Teng’s friend, Bernice Feng, who’s also a first-year graduate student and in the master of science program in health statistics. 

Bella Amell, a freshman political science student from Brunswick, Md., said her first day was chaotic — and although the flyers weren’t a “main concern” while moving in and navigating the campus, it was nice to have it addressed right away by other student leadership. 

[My first-year counselor] was saying that it was fear-mongering tactics, and it’s a very safe place to live,” Amell said. “She said she’s never felt unsafe in the city, and like any other, you have to just be smart. I’m not worried at all.”

Copy of ‘Welcome to Fear City’ flyer that was handed out in New York City in the mid 1970s. Jessika Harkay / CT Mirror

The flyers appeared to be inspired by a “survival guide” that was handed out to people in New York City in 1975.

The version distributed by Yale police union members similarly used the same first five tips as the 1975 version, while including examples of recent violent crime in New Haven.

“On July 9, 2023, a person was shot on the train platform while exiting a train,” the flyer read under No. 3, “Avoid public transportation.” “On July 17, 2023, a person was stabbed multiple times while inside the lobby of a train station.”

“We all stand here, No. 1, together, united — the university and the city of New Haven — to support a city that has its challenges but is overwhelmingly safe [and] to not cherry-pick pieces of data to present a story and a narrative about New Haven that is false and scary,” Elicker said. “Yale students: you should embrace our city. You should get out into the neighborhoods instead of being afraid of our neighborhoods like the Yale Police Union might lead you to believe.”

According to Yale’s 2022-2023 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, the university did not have any homicides from January 2021 through the end of the year. There were 30 motor vehicle thefts, 28 rapes, 16 burglaries and 13 robberies in total between on-campus, off-campus and public property areas from January 2021 through December 31, 2021.

The university says it’s “committed to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, neighbors, and visitors.”

“Our campus continues to see a decrease in crime, especially violent crimes. Robberies are down 30% compared to last year, and throughout the City of New Haven, robberies and burglaries are also down,” a written statement published on the university’s website said. “The most reported crime on campus is the theft of laptops, cell phones, and motorized scooters left unattended and unsecured.”

Jessika Harkay is CT Mirror’s Education Reporter, covering the K-12 achievement gap, education funding, curriculum, mental health, school safety, inequity and other education topics. Jessika's experience includes roles as a breaking news reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Hartford Courant. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Baylor University.