Two Yale Police officers showed up at City Hall.
They weren’t there to make an arrest. They were there to have a conversation. Because that’s their new full-time jobs.
During Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSCMT) on the second floor of City Hall, Yale Police Officers Martin Parker and Martha Cedeno-Ross introduced themselves as the university police force’s new full-time community engagement officers.
“Our goal is to respond to the community in Yale and in New Haven and to do what it takes to build better relationships between the police department and the community we police,” Parker told the 30 neighbors assembled for Tuesday night’s meeting.
He explained that he and Cedeno-Ross, both of whom are four-year veterans of the university police force, are no longer on patrol. Their full-time job, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is to reach out to people at Yale and in New Haven more broadly and to help forge a better relationship among Yale cops, students, and city residents.
Parker, 30, and Cedeno-Ross, 39, said they started their new community engagement jobs on Sept. 9. Over the past two months, they’ve held meetings with Yale students at campus libraries and at Donut Crazy on York Street. They held a community turkey drive last Friday where they gave out 250 turkeys to New Haven families. And they’ve overseen a busing program for bringing city youth to Yale sporting events.
They’re also on tap to speak to the East Rock and Newhallville community management teams next week, and to students at Troup School and Lincoln-Bassett School later this winter.
“There are a lot of people that don’t have good relationships with police,” Parker said. “We want to be that bridge to have those conversations and answer the questions that typically normally aren’t answered by police officers, and in a relaxed setting.”
A New Haven native, Parker said the “million-dollar question” he often gets asked by students and community members alike is: Do police officers have arrest quotas?
“We don’t ticket because we have quotas,” he said.
As an African-American man who is still disproportionately stopped by police when he’s not wearing his uniform, Parker said he also feels well-equipped to talk with city youth and black and brown Yale students about their wariness about racial prejudice in law enforcement.
“When I was in graduate school, they warned us not to leave a certain area,” said Wooster Square resident Cordalie Benoit. “I hope you’re encouraging people to come to Wooster Square.”
“I’m originally from New Haven,” Parker replied. “I tell everybody there are places you should be more alert and aware of where you’re going, but New Haven is a great place. I’m definitely a champion of the City of New Haven.”