Students question value of blue light phones
Ari August used to go for nighttime jogs on the empty paths of The Green. After sunset, she could be alone, with nothing but the brick ahead of her and the stress behind her.
“I have had to stop running at night … because my friends didn’t feel it was safe and made me promise I wouldn’t,” August said. “The fact that I have to work my preferences around what’s not safe in what’s supposed to be the safest area on campus was annoying.”
Recent armed robberies on and around campus have caused many university students to question the effectiveness and efficiency of the university’s safety mechanisms. Among those under scrutiny is the blue light phone system.
The blue light phone system, touted by public safety officials and college tour guides alike, is a common fixture on college campuses across the nation. According to the United States Department of Justice, 92 percent of all colleges campuses in the United States have a blue light phone system.
In an informal survey of 20 students, every participant said they knew what the blue light phone system was and that it was used to prevent crime on and around campus. Despite this, 50 percent of the students surveyed said they thought there are not enough of the phones on campus to keep students safe.
“There are times when I’ve been walking late and have looked for one but there are none in sight,” Andreana Mellos, a first-year student studying math education , said. “Hearing stories about campus, I feel there should be more. Because there aren’t enough, I have started carrying pepper spray.”
Shawn Von Hagel, an administrative assistant for Chief of Police Patrick Ogden of the University of Delaware Police Department (UDPD), said the Newark Campus has 195 exterior emergency phones, which are the conventional, outdoor blue light phones. In addition, the UDPD also counts 435 interior emergency phones, which are indoors and concentrated around laboratories.
Between the interior emergency phones and exterior emergency phones, the UDPD said they have 630 emergency phones on and around campus.
“We have a very robust blue light phone system in place on campus,” UDPD Captain Jason Pires said in an email.
The UDPD declined The Review’s requests for an interview.
According to the information provided by the UDPD, the university campus is equipped with one exterior emergency phone for every 10.318 acres. In comparison, the University of Pennsylvania has 8,355 fewer undergraduate students than the university and one exterior emergency phone for every 3.02 acres of its campus.
Regardless of the number of blue light phones there are on the university campus, some students consider their placement a problem.
“I never really notice [the blue light phones], which I feel is a problem because if a student is in danger, they should be able to easily locate one … instead of having to frantically search for one,” Kristine Lim, a first-year student studying medical diagnostics, said.
The survey revealed 20 percent of students said they believed they could reach a blue light phone in a time of need. Students claim there are not enough blue light phones in the most dangerous parts of campus.
“You mostly only see blue lights near actual campus buildings,” Rucha Wani, a first-year student studying marine science and chemistry, said. “I don’t frequently hear of crime in the middle part of campus, but we get alerts of crimes on Haines, Cleveland or Main Street and I don’t think a lot of those streets have a ton of blue lights.”
Though students said the placement of the blue light phones is poor, most people do not know where they are located. Of those surveyed, 60 percent of students said they did not know where the blue light phone closest to their bedroom is.
Students said their ignorance to the location of their nearest blue light phone worried them.
“Thinking about [it], I don’t know on the top of my head where the blue lights are located, and in a time of need I may panic while trying to locate one,” Jenna Landesman, a second-year student studying communications, said.
To combat this ignorance, seven of the 20 students surveyed suggested circulating a map of the blue light phones to increase the student body’s awareness of them. However, such a map already exists in “Walkabout,” a safety pamphlet issued by the UDPD. It is available both in their offices and on their website.
While students remain undereducated on the blue light phones, 90 percent still said the presence of the phones made them feel safer.
“I definitely consider safety as an important aspect of where I should go to school because if I do not feel safe, I would not be comfortable to go anywhere,” Jennifer Chang, a third-year student studying communications, said regarding how the blue light phone system makes her feel safer.
The Newark Police Department (NPD) also sponsors 31 blue light phones on the James Hall Trail and the Pomeroy Trail. Corporal Brandon Walker of the NPD said these blue light phones are used to prevent crimes and react to them.
Although police say the blue light phones protect safety reactively, neither the NPD nor UDPD document how many calls they receive from blue light phones. Both Walker and Pires said calls made from blue light phones come in no differently than typical 911 calls, making it impossible to count how many calls they receive from the blue light phone system.
“With the leaps and bounds made in cell phone technology, and the fact that just about everyone in our campus population owns one, we receive majority of our emergency calls via cell phone,” Pires, without citing specific numbers, said. “The blue light phones are an added layer of security for our campus community.”
Von Hagel explained the blue light phone system adds security by reporting the caller’s exact location, which cellphones cannot do as accurately.
Tracking the use compared to upkeep costs of the blue light phone system becomes challenging without knowing how many 911 calls come from them. Pires said each blue light phone costs $6,000 to install and $10 per month to maintain. Without these call tracking data, the UDPD determines where they will put new blue light phones in a different way.
“An annual security assessment is done, where we, along with other members of the campus community, to include students, walk the entire campus to identify areas where safety issues can be improved,” Pires said.
Although neither the UDPD nor the NPD track these data to justify the cost of the blue light phones, both departments still argue the blue light phone system is worth the investment.
“[Blue light phones] are an aide to the public for anything that happens along the trail from a crime to medical incident,” Walker said. “It is a crime deterrent because criminals know that the phones are there. It also gives those who use the trail peace of mind.”
Although UDPD does not track the number of calls made on the blue light phones, Pires stated they receive calls on them for a variety of purposes.
“We get [calls from blue light phones for] everything from accidental calls, building lockouts and medical emergencies,” Pires said.
Without any data to suggest the blue light phones are more effective at crime prevention than cellphones, their value remains unassessable, and their preventive versus reactive functions remain unquantifiable.
“I feel like students just call 911 instead of pressing the lights,” Chang said.
Altogether, students say they appreciate the presence of the blue light phones, but they do not believe the system alone provides sufficient crime prevention.
“The blue light isn’t a fool proof plan” Heidi Fliegelman, a first-year student studying English education and communications, said. “But, there is no doubt that the blue lights are a welcome, positive tool that can provide help.”