“Ambassadors” Eyed As Crime-Fighting Allies

Paul Bass PhotoAs downtown “ambassador” Joshua Harris helped nab a fleeing bank robber, a downtown alderman is pitching a related idea: put sidewalk greeters like him in neighborhoods throughout the city and equip them with police radios.

It might be cheaper than hiring more cops, the alderman, Douglas Hausladen, told the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee last week.

More ambassadors—helpful sidewalk-roaming “concierges”—in the city would mean more eyes and ears on the street to spot and stop crimes, Hausladen argued at the March 20 committee meeting. Right now only downtown has ambassadors. If they see a problem, they call the police department like any other citizen.

Hausladen’s case in point about the crew’s crime-fighting potential came Monday of this week, when ambassador Harris spotted red dye coming out of the pocket of a woman heading towards a city bus. He alerted downtown beat cop Officer Pete Ballolli who ended up arresting the woman for robbing the TD Bank at the corner of College and Chapel.

“Synergistic bliss,” Hausladen called it on Tuesday afternoon.

“We see something, that’s what we do,” downtown ambassador Harold Hasell (at right in above photo, with Harris) said of his colleague’s assist.

The pair said some people already think ambassadors are cops—especially since they sometimes ride bikes, and they wear yellow uniforms similar to cycle-cops’ jackets. Other people mistake them for parking meter readers.

“People will run past me and put money in the meter,” said Harris, who’s 24.

“Full sprint!” Hassell added.

Hausladen has not created a formal proposal for ambassador expansion yet. But his idea was greeted with cautiously open arms when he floated it at last week’s committee meeting.

Hausladen, a freshman alderman, said he’s not yet putting forward an official proposal in part because he’s still learning the ropes three months into his first term. He said he he’s not sure how new ambassadors would be paid for, but said there are a variety of options, from grants to neighborhood fundraising to the city’s general fund. In the meantime, he’s just trying to see if people are into the general idea.

Thomas MacMillan Photo“First and foremost: Is this something desired by the city?” Hausladen said. If it is, then the city can begin to talk about how to pay for it.

Ambassadors have been walking downtown’s sidewalks since 1998, said Win Davis, the deputy head of Town Green Special Services District, which pays for the staff of 15.

“We provide hospitality and safety services as well as maintenance,” Davis said. “We are walking concierge-type people downtown.”

Being “extra eyes and ears” for the police department has always been a focus of the program, Davis said. “We’re in daily contact with our downtown officers.”

“Any way that we can have a closer relationship with the police department helps us do a better job,” said Davis. As for whether ambassadors should be given police radios, Winn said, “Ultimately that would be up to the police department.”

As part of a recent effort to revive community policing, downtown now has five full-time walking-beat officers. Walking cops have been deployed to other neighborhoods as well.

As police Chief Dean Esserman looks to hire more cops and increase walking beats even further, members of the Public Safety committee raised concerns about how the city will pay for it.

“Downtown ambassadors can be much more cost effective,” Hausladen said. The job pays a living wage, he said. Wages start at $9.75 an hour, Davis said.

The ambassadors could be trained to use police radios and relay information immediately to the cops, Hausladen said. It would be like having a fleet of security guards around the city, he said.

You’re talking about making this citywide? Alderwoman Jackie James asked.

Yes, Hausladen replied. “People from the neighborhoods” could be hired and trained, he said. It could start with other business improvement districts, like the Grand Avenue Village Association the Chapel West Special Services District.

In fact, Chapel West on March 8 contracted with the Town Green to have ambassadors further down Chapel Street six days a week, Davis said.

“It’d be interesting to flesh this idea out,” city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said after the aldermanic meeting. Anything that would help get more information to police would be valuable, he said.

“We have a lot of unemployed people” in the city, Hausladen said. An expanded ambassador program could be “a training ground” for police academy cadets.

“I would love to talk more about this,” said Beaver Hill Alderman Brian Wingate, chair of the Public Safety Committee. He said there might be a “safety issues” with putting ambassadors into all neighborhoods.

“Are civilians going to take these people seriously?” he asked. “I know we’re all trying to save city dollars, but we don’t want to put people in harm’s way.”

Paul Bass contributed reporting.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 30, 2012  2:14pm

first doug your sporting a boyish face I see.

With that said…I LIKE IT!

posted by: anonymous on March 30, 2012  2:15pm

Doing this would be so cost-effective and impactful at reducing crime on a long term basis, especially if we hired local residents who need jobs instead of suburbanites, that the Police Union would never allow it.

See discussion at http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/knock_knock2/

posted by: streever on March 30, 2012  2:18pm

Hausladen is on fire.

This should be implemented as soon as humanly possible.

Proactive eyes on the street who give New Haven a good name to EVERYONE who visits is exactly where we should spend money.

1. Had my lost wallet returned by downtown ambassadors
2. Been financially helped by a downtown ambassador who didn’t even know me
3. Been given great directions by downtown ambassadors

I noticed the downtown ambassadors shortly after I started working downtown, when I first moved here, and they really boosted my already positive impression of New Haven.

posted by: Curious on March 30, 2012  2:18pm

I know Anon is going to jump for joy at this, but I think it’s a bad idea.

You can’t put untrained civilians into a role that police should occupy.  Ambassadors will get shot.  The police union will also fight this tooth and nail.

If this happens, these people should be trained on much more than how to handle a radio.

posted by: Walt on March 30, 2012  2:41pm

Sounds like as good idea but must be controlled’
Think of the current Zimmerman problem down South

posted by: RCguy on March 30, 2012  3:11pm

Let’s deputize them and give them arresting powers!

posted by: anonymous on March 30, 2012  3:21pm

“You can’t put untrained civilians into a role that police should occupy.”

There is no difference between ambassadors with radios and citizens who walk the streets with cell phones.

Police do not manage urban space.  People do. 

Police patrols are irrelevant; in fact, they may mke residents feel even more unsafe.  Having the “eyes and ears” of people on the street is the only thing that prevents crime.

Many other communities take the “BID” approach suggested here, and, when coupled with other improvements such as hiring locally and hiring people to clean sidewalks, they have seen enormous reductions in crime.

The reduction in crime we would see is the main reason why the Police Union would oppose this idea.

We can keep our crime rates the way they are, or we can try a new approach that is proven to virtually eliminate crime and cost very little. 

Hiring more police officers from the suburbs will only increase our crime rates relative to the State, and increase our tax bills.

posted by: Win Davis on March 30, 2012  3:40pm

Streever - Thank you for the positive words on the program! I agree that the Ambassadors are a great asset to Downtown and I am very proud to be working with them.  We serve as extra “eyes and ears” who can “observe and report” to the Police Department.

We must keep in mind that Ambassadors are meant to assist the public and local law enforcement, certainly not take the place of the Police in any neighborhood.  This story hinges on the fact that Officer Pete was walking the beat on Chapel Street—Ambassador Harris’ ability to report his observation to the PD is what made the difference.  Thank you to the NHPD for your fine work on the beat!

posted by: Anderson Scooper on March 30, 2012  7:26pm

What is a living wage in New Haven? $9.75/hour? Or $12-$15/hour?

In any case, it would make more sense to put people to work, than to let them hang out on unemployment, year after year in this down economy.

The other question is if neighborhood ambassadors could be managed properly without the strong organization which is the Town Green SSD?

posted by: anonymous on March 30, 2012  7:30pm

Philly has has 85+ murders since January.

“No one believes that the police can solve the problem themselves.  Francis Carmen, who works as a public defender in the city and specializes in murder cases, says that “putting more cops on the street would be akin to hiring more street cleaners in an effort to stop people from littering.”


Using the $5M per year proposed to hire new cops instead to hire local residents in Newhallville to clean streets and parks, run basketball leagues, and serve as Ambassadors there would most likely reduce the crime there from a murder rate that makes Philadelphia look really good down to about zero. 

Are there any civic leaders who honestly want to reduce our crime rate?

posted by: William Kurtz on April 2, 2012  8:22am

True story: last year, I saw one guy chasing another guy and trying to hit him with a tree branch (yes, a branch. Not a stick) in the intersection of Temple and Elm at around 7:30 in the evening. The would-be victim wasn’t really in any danger but the argument was loud and rowdy and the first person I saw to report it to was a Downtown Ambassador further down the street. Honestly, I always thought they had the ability to summon the cops quickly on the radio if needed.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

posted by: Curious on April 2, 2012  10:03am

***“Are civilians going to take these people seriously?” he asked. “I know we’re all trying to save city dollars, but we don’t want to put people in harm’s way.”***

Exactly.  If you expect downtown ambassadors to get involved in law enforcement, they’re going to need training and higher.  Then that’s not a downtown ambassador anymore.

Let’s say an ambassadors spots a mugging, and starts to radio it in.  What happens if the mugger then kicks the crap out of the ambassador?  Or stabs or shoots that person?

posted by: anonymous on April 2, 2012  10:27am


Anyone can call in a mugging to 911.  I’d say that the guarantee of having a safe city for our young persons, something that has not happened in 40 years despite the expansion of the police force, outweighs your highly unlikely “what if” scenarios.

posted by: William Kurtz on April 2, 2012  10:31am

““I would love to talk more about this,” said Beaver Hill Alderman Brian Wingate, chair of the Public Safety Committee. He said there might be a “safety issues” with putting ambassadors into all neighborhoods.”

“Let’s say an ambassadors spots a mugging, and starts to radio it in.  What happens if the mugger then kicks the crap out of the ambassador?  Or stabs or shoots that person?”

I don’t think those are entirely reasonable objections. What happens if a private citizen witnesses a mugging? How often does it happen that a passer-by witnesses a violent crime in progress, stops to call the police, and is him- or herself victimized?

posted by: Curious on April 2, 2012  11:41am

A civilian who calls it in takes their own chances.  If this is part of an ambassador’s job, then they have a duty to call it in, and if they get hurt because of it, then the city is on the hook for it if found to have not trained and equipped that person properly.  Someone properly trained and equipped is not going to cost New Haven $10 an hour.

Why can’t this be done in cooperation with the PD instead of as an alternative?