Yale, Cops Get Inside The Mind Of A Child

by Katie DeWitt | October 5, 2006 4:28 PM | | Comments (0)

As morning light seeped in through the modern glass walls of the Dixwell-Yale University Community Learning Center, more than 40 community leaders sat with their eyes closed, imagining the feeling of waking up from a nightmare as a young child. Then Professor Steven Marans of the Yale Child Study Center asked them to open their eyes and share what they felt.

"Trembling all over," one audience member volunteered.
"Fear," offered another.
"What happens in the aftermath of a nightmare is the beginning of what happens when we respond to something traumatic," Marans explained. "But the huge difference between experiencing a nightmare and what is real and confronting us with an immediate threat is that you can go back to sleep after a nightmare."

Contary to appearance, Marans was not offering a group therapy session on the interpretation of dreams. He stood behind a podium at the Rose Center as a representative of the Child Development-Community Policing (CD-CP) partnerhsip between the New Haven police department and Yale. Through this initiative, both sides work together to provide direct services to children and families exposed to violence and offer extensive training and support for police professionals.

Marans' talk marked the second in the new academic year's Community Breakfast Dialogue Series, which occur on the first Thursday of every month to share and learn about how Yale University and the broader New Haven community are working together. All members of the New Haven and Yale communities are invited to participate, with the perk of a generous hot and cold breakfast buffet, including an omelet maker.

Marans compared the terror of a nightmare to the violence New Haven residents have to face on a daily basis, pointing to the role of CD-CP in addressing the emotional and practical needs of the community- - and especially children -- after a traumatic event. He worries that when children in New Haven are exposed to violence, the adults responsible for them do not always recognize that they have been traumatized.

"If you think about the parents at the end of the hall who do better than saying, 'It's just a nightmare, get out of my face,' then you start to think about the role that we (CD-CP) have in the community," Marans said.

Last night on Fowler Street, a bank robbery awoke and upset residents in the area, and a joint response by Yale Child Development experts and the New Haven police department immediately followed. Marans said the program generates about 15 similar joint responses a week.

New Haven Board of Education member Mae Ole Riddick, whose daughter has a mental illness, called the program's 24-hour service "excellent" because Yale's Child Development experts have dealt with her and her daughter in a "very comforting" manner. She expressed frustration, however, at the behavior of the cops from the NHPD in traumatic situations.

"They [Child Development experts] need to work with those cops to help them understand what community is," she said.

New Haven Police Chief Francisco Ortiz took a more casual approach to addressing his audience, standing in front of the podium - "I feel like I'm in a room with a bunch of friends," he said. A member of the NHPD for 29 years, Ortiz said he has seen the New Haven community go through its ups and downs in terms of crime and violence, and he is thankful for the direction it is headed in today. He praised the city's partnership with Yale for helping to change the way the community looks at policing. Still, he acknowledged there is more that can be done on both sides.

"We have begun to knock down the barriers and work together to exchange information," Ortiz said. "But we've got to change the way we think about our children. We've got to partner together, collaborate, and institutionalize these changes."

Yale and the city of New Haven have been co-hosting these Community Breakfasts for years at various venues around town such as Italian restaurant La Piazza. Now with the completion of the Rose Center, whose stated mission is to foster collaboration between Yale and the Dixwell neighborhood as well as the Greater New Haven community, these meetings finally have an appropriate home. T. Reginald Solomon, program director at the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, referred to the community leaders who attend these breakfasts as "influencers" who will bring what they learn back with them to their homes or workplaces in New Haven.

Most of the people who attend the breakfasts are regulars, said Willie Holmes, who has been coming regularly for two years. A resident of West Haven, Holmes has invested more than 60 years of his life in New Haven, where he goes to church and belongs to the Greater New Haven Business and Professional Association.

"I think these breakfasts are excellent," Holmes said. "The big thing is that they involve the entire community. This is one of the best things that have happened between town and gown since I've been here."

Next month's Community Breakfast will feature Margaret Grey, the current dean of the Yale School of Nursing.


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