February 8, 2017

Emergency blue lights system’s effectiveness questioned

uofl campus crime

By Eric Matthews–

The familiar blue lights that students trust to protect them from trouble are having troubles of their own.

Some blue lights are out of order, sporting notices instructing those in need to call U of L Police or 911. Students brought concerns about the malfunctioning units to SGA Services Vice President Lauren Greenwell, who discussed the situation with ULPD.

Many of the emergency phones need major software updates to work properly, however, the technology is so outdated that further updates will not be possible much longer.

The lights are also expensive to maintain. In 2014, The Cardinal reported the upkeep cost between $50,000 and $60,000 annually. There has not been a great return on investment: According to Greenwell, only one genuine emergency call has ever been made from a blue light.

ULPD suggested these funds could be better spent on installing brighter lights around campus, increasing patrols and expanding the campus escort service. Escorts ferry U of L ID holders from campus to nearby locations, providing around 7,500 rides a year, but the service can be quickly overwhelmed with too many calls. Officers have increased patrols of areas like Seventh and Shipp Streets and Cardinal Station on Central Ave.

While the blue lights are in limbo, Greenwell touted U of L’s Rave Guardian safety app, available for free on iPhone and Android. In addition to having ULPD and 911 on speed dial, the app allows users to send tips to campus police, share their GPS location with friends and set a timer for how long it should take them to walk from point A to point B. If the time elapses without the user confirming their arrival or resetting the timer, the app will alert ULPD and provide the user’s location through the phone’s GPS.

“It’s essentially a blue light for everyone right at their fingertips,” Greenwell said.

An attempted robbery of a non-student behind Speed School on Jan. 31 left a victim with a knife wound. The victim was not seriously injured and no money was stolen. The incident occurred near a blue light, but ULPD was not notified until the victim arrived at the hospital around two hours after the incident.

“It’s always a shame when stuff like that happens, but this is a city,” freshman marketing major Gabe Jackson said. “There’s not a whole lot that can be done about one attempted robbery.”

Not everyone is convinced that the blue lights, which are touted during Welcome Week in a mandatory informational session, have outlived their usefulness.

“If they’re going to take them down, they need to replace them with something similar,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t need to be the exact same thing, but the system should stay in place.”

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