Students petition for cameras at emergency blue light stations

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 6:30pm

Five University of Michigan students have started a petition to install cameras on the existing emergency blue light phones located throughout campus. As of Tuesday, 233 students have signed the petition.

The petition was created on March 14, but was not heavily promoted until April 4, after the five students had a meeting with the Division of Public Safety and Security Associate Director Declan Lugin and police sergeant Gary Hicks to present and discuss their proposal.

In the current blue light phone system, DPSS Communications Center is alerted if a call is made. An officer is sent to the location of the telephone when the telephone receiver is removed from the cradle. Dialing or conversation is not required for the alert and the dispatch of an officer.

LSA sophomore Helen Joa, one of the five students, said the camera would be the most useful in identifying an attacker since sometimes a student who was attacked or harassed cannot provide a good description of the perpetrator.

“Once the camera is activated, we’re hoping that it will help take the pressure off from the person who was attacked to identify the attacker,” Joa said. “Crime alert (from DPSS) is a fairly good system … but the only downfall is that when you get to the description of the perpetrator, it’s something like ‘they are wearing a North Face jacket.’”

Joa added that the cameras would be important especially given the light of recent events such as the anti-Islam chalking on the Diag last month.

“People come to U of M to learn and study,” Joa said. “This should not have to be a topic of concern for them. So anything I can do as a fellow Wolverine to make someone else feel safer, I’m going to do it.”

The proposed camera, outlined in the petition, would be activated only when the student pushes the emergency button, to alleviate concerns about privacy.

In response to the petition, DPSS public information officer Diane Brown said there are currently discussions within the department about enhancing the blue light system. She added that in addition to installing cameras, DPSS has considered installing public announcement speakers on top of the blue light phones.

“We could broadcast outgoing messages to the community for emergencies,” Brown said. “There have been discussions and there continues to be discussions about putting cameras at strategic locations.”

Brown said one strategy for cameras on campus in general would be installing them where infrastructure, such as data lines and cyber optic lines, are already in place. However, she noted that most of the blue light phones are too far away from such infrastructure, meaning it may be difficult to install the camera on existing phones.

“It wouldn’t be just placing a camera on a top of a pedestal,” Brown said. “Some other infrastructure enhancement would have to be part of the project.”

She added that the cameras do not necessarily have to be part of the phone system given the infrastructure problem, adding that many crimes don't occur where the phones are located. She noted that the most common form of crime is stealing unattended belongings at libraries or recreational centers, which aren't near the lights.

“We simply don’t get that kind of reports (at the phones),” she said. “But there might be locations where adding the camera would help.”

Brown emphasized DPSS is always interested in enhancing safety and security for the students, pointing to several existing services from DPSS such as using text messages to report crimes.

“(Students) can send us a text message with specifics (of the crime),” Brown said. “It’s more consistent with the communication devices students tend to use regularly.”

LSA freshman William Waters, one of the 233 students who signed the petition, wrote in an e-mail that interview he was motivated to sign the petition because he believes feeling safe on campus is extremely important, adding that he felt there is a low number of blue light phones available on campus.

“I have friends that have discussed their concerns about walking home at night alone and have noted their specific concerns regarding the amount of blue lights available on campus,” Waters wrote. “When visiting other campuses, there are so many more lights and they’re more advanced with cameras. In residence halls, other campuses have one in each hallway on each floor, but U of M does not have a single blue light in any dorm to my knowledge.”