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Yale 62

Security at Yale
Introduction by Tim Hall. Reminiscence #1 by Lee V. Bakunin. Reminiscence #2 by Gary Richardson.

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In a major story reported in the New York Times on August 26, there was a report of a flyer issued by the Yale Campus Police union, warning incoming freshmen in dire terms of the risks of being on the streets of New Haven. This inspired Lee Bakunin, a member of the Class of 1962 Communications Team and a resident of the peaceful island of Cyprus, to reflect on the Campus Police of our day:

O’, The Times Are a Changing
By Lee V. Bakunin

The Yale Class of ’62 entered Phelps gate in mid-September, 1958. Mostly U.S. White Guys, with a smattering of minorities and foreign students. 50% Preppies, 50% Public high school. About 25% were from the East Coast. None were married, at least not according to official records. Youngest was 12 years old and one or two oldies past the age of 30. A few had served in the military.

There were no uniformed policemen, just some guys in sport coats and porkpie hats – Campus Cops, but as we would learn much more efficient and knowledgeable than the Keystone Cops of Hollywood and a little less knowledgeable than the CIA.

Somehow, they knew our every move, bringing law and order from who threw a water balloon, making loud crowd noise or singing bawdy songs in a large group the first night. Later, we’d learn that if some were wandering the campus, Chapel Street or the New Haven Green, having imbibed too much, or having a member of the opposite sex in their room after curfew on a weekend, they would dispense justice as they sought fit – maybe a cup of coffee, escort us to our room or remove the unwanted object peacefully.

These gentlemen were most skilled, the best of the best of the New Haven Police Force. With the over testerone-laden Yalies of the day, they had to be.

More like buddies and commanded respect.

Maybe, because all of us were subject to the draft, we complied.

For those in Army and Navy ROTC, there was additional support in the form of Army Career Top Sergeant, Sgt. Silva, in similar attire and his Naval compatriot to keep us out of trouble.

Many were bursary students and worked in the dining halls at Commons, the residential colleges or within the administration.

Very little Union or organizational activity. Perhaps, all of us were on the same turf and as members of the silent generation, we had learned respect and love for the freedoms we enjoyed.

Not so today, gates locked and guarded by armed policemen with vehicles and riot gear at hand. ID’s, pass codes and photo recognition. Which at times seems like a period of discontent, challenges between the haves and have nots, along with differing opinions of due process, fundamental fairness and repairing the injustices of the past. Cross the aisle at your own peril.


And then Lee’s response inspired another Communications Team member, Gary Richardson, to recall his own freshman experiences with our campus guardians of the peace:

“This got me thinking about my first (and only) brush with the campus cops: Thursday, Sept. 25, 1958, was a warm night in New Haven, and the freshmen were restless.

“The next day, the Yale Daily News offered a couple of explanations for what kicked it off when 200 Freshmen Rioted on Old Campus (something to do with complaints about the musical offerings) and a few days later: “Five Freshmen Removed From Old Campus,” of whom I was the one whose roommate banged on his wastebasket. I had lobbed a water balloon at an inopportune moment noted by a cop. We spent a week in a seedy room off campus but being on scholarship, were allowed to take our meals in the Commons.

“Be well,

Which leads to the questions, what are your thoughts on the NY Times’s report on the current news from the Yale Campus Police, and what were your own student experiences with them? Post your comments below.

You can find the NY Times article at this link.

9 comments to Security at Yale

  • What a great story. I was away with a church choir the weekend of the “snowball riot” but heard plenty when I got back and there were many pictures in the YDN.

  • Whit Knapp

    Brings back good memories: My most vivid was a dispute between competing ice cream vendors on the corner and opposing corner at Yale Station one spring day in probably our junior year. A small gathering in support of the competing vendors grew and the crowd became extraordinarily agitated. Suddenly a compact vehicle drew up to the street side entrance to Yale Station and out unfurled the biggest campus cop I had ever seen. His towering height and African American complexation took the assembled crowd by surprise and almost as soon as he stood straight up the crowd disbursed. The incident was over without one punch being thrown.

  • charles merlis

    I remember the St. Patricks day riot extremely well. I was visiting my sister that weekend at Vassar,and missed the whole brouhaha, but…

    When I got back I found out my friend Tom Achenbach had unjustly been arrested and somewhat roughed up. Tom was a conservative law abiding guy snd just a quiet viewer of the parade. The experience radicalized him and he almost became an anti police leftist, for a few days. After, I think he went back to being an Eisenhower Republican.

    Tom, I hope you’re around to edit any inaccuracies in this account and add the details, I left out.

  • I don’t recall a lot of detail, but I have nothing but fond memories of the “snowball riot” in which I joyfully joined in the fun,lobbing from our Durfee balcony. Given the very different atmosphere surrounding policing and security in USA these days, I am grateful that our time at Yale was during a more innocent era.

  • Bill Weber

    You all may recall the website session with Giamei and Merrick on the St. Pats day riot. Go to the search section of the website and try some words.

  • Bill Weber

    The website presentation on the St. Pats day riot with Giamei and Merrick was on 3/17/22 and can be found on the archive section.

  • The Yale Daily News has an excellent archive. I’ve checked it several times for verification of memorable events during those bright (and not so bright) college days.
    I had forgotten the date of the Old Campus “riot” and had no idea what started it. Water ballooning seemed like a harmless entertainment on a muggy New Haven evening.
    Check out the Yale Daily News account, “200 Freshmen Rioted on Old Campus,” Sept 26, 1958:——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-Sept.+26%2c+1958——
    Quick justice: I’d forgotten that my roommate was busted for pounding on his wastebasket and that we’d been tried, convicted, and sentenced in three days.
    The Old Campus cops had a direct line to the freshman dean’s office. “Five Freshmen Removed From Old Campus,” YDN, Sept. 29, 1958:——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-Sept+29%2c+1958——
    As Dean Manice explained, in a riot “anyone in sight” is taking a risk of being caught. It was a lesson I took to heart.
    On St. Patrick’s Day, I avoided any appearance of participation in the melee that played out beneath our windows in Durfee Hall, where our previous crimes had been committed.
    We were, however, able to sneak a few photos of New Haven cops roughing up anyone in sight.

  • Tim Hall

    Glad to see you on this side of the bars today, Gary, considering your questionable start!

  • Charles Valier

    I remember the snowball riot, but have no idea why it ensued. A case of a mob acting irrationally. I was on the third floor of Wright Hall, and quickly figured out that I should make myself scarce as the campus police were going into rooms.
    What troubles me is that there was little or no crime on campus then and now everyone is locked up. No one seems to he able to come up with a good solution. I was Police Commissioner in St. Louis, 1981-1985. There were two things we did that helped. First, we appointed Blacks as precinct captains in the black wards and always had a Black as head of internal affairs, the unit that investigated public protests of police actions and internal discipline. We followed that up with monthly meetings in each of the nine police districts where we let the public ask questions and we talked about recent events. The other thing that seemed to work was we had a mobile reserve that flooded high crime areas. Today the number of policemen is down, there is public antipathy toward police and minor crimes are simply tolerated. All of this was common sense policy. Finally, I want to point out that politicians of both parties supported the police then. I, often, sat as judge of disciplinary hearings, which were open to the public and administered uniform punishment for misbehavior. So, I had to fire officers who warranted it. Years later one of the policemen I fired came up to me and told me I had done the right thing, that it had saved his life, as alcohol was the case of his problem. Only time I have been thanked for terminating someone. Maybe, we need to return to the lessons we learned in the past. The murder rate in St. Louis is now four times what it was my last year as commissioner. Incidentally, I took a lot of public criticism for not promoting a crony of the publisher of the conservative newspaper in St. Louis , the Globe Democrat, as chef of police, and praise from the liberal paper, the Post-Dispatch, even though I was a Republican. Certainly, it was a different time.