GVSU students push for emergency phones on campus

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — You’ve likely seen them on various college campuses in West Michigan: blue light emergency call stations that can connect students in distress with the nearest police department.

They’re at Western Michigan University, Hope College, and even Grand Rapids Community College, among others. But you won’t find them at Grand Valley State University in Allendale. Now, a group of students are trying to change that. 

“It could save a life,” GVSU junior Allie Lalone said of the emergency call stations. “If five people use it within a year and one of those calls saves someone’s life, I think that’s beneficial.”

Lalone is among four students whose class project on campus safety has now turned into much more: an online petition with more than 500 signatures calling for the university to install the blue light phones on campus. 

The push for new safety measures comes after a rash of reported assaults on or near campus to start the last two school years: four in the fall of 2016 and three more in the fall of 2017

“You think — is that my sister? Is that my friend? Is that my cousin?” Lalone said of the assaults.

The emergency call stations at GRCC cost $7,000 each to install, not including maintenance. However, there are cheaper, simpler versions available.

“It’s a visible deterrent,” said GVSU senior Ben Ballou, who’s also in the group that created the petition. “You wouldn’t want to commit a crime right in front of a police station.”

However, GVSU Police Chief Brandon DeHaan says they previously decided against installing the blue light phones, releasing the following statement to 24 Hour News 8:

The topic of installing blue light phones has come up several times at Grand Valley. We have found that they are not the most effective strategy to keep students safe on our multiple campuses. In an emergency, people run away from the problem, not toward a blue light phone.


Grand Valley uses the Guardian app, which is literally a blue light phone in your pocket. The GVSU Guardian app is a free app for iPhone and Android phones that allows users to call 911 with an automatic push button on the app. The Guardian app also allows users to set a timer for how long it will take them to walk from one place to another on campus, and an automatic message will be sent to GVSU dispatchers if the timer goes off. It also gives users the opportunity to send a text message to police dispatch if they are in a situation where they might not be able to call. The app offers a lot more application than just a phone in a parking lot.

Additionally, GRCC Police Chief Rebecca Whitman told 24 Hour News 8 that their blue light phones have been more often abused — for fake calls or pranks — than actually used for emergency purposes.

Whitman concedes the call boxes serve as a loudspeaker and are valuable in communicating weather alerts or other concerns to students outside. 

Students advocating for the blue light phones at GVSU said they’re happy there’s a smartphone app that can help keep kids safe, but other measures would help protect more people. 

“That’s an awesome tool, but you have to have a smartphone, you have to have Wi-Fi, you have to have data, your phone has to be charged, your phone has to be out,” Lalone said, calling the emergency call boxes a stable structure.

“Everyone has equal access to (it). It’s not going anywhere and you know where it is — you can add it to your (emergency) plan,” she explained.

Lalone and her classmates will soon hand over their petition to the GVSU Student Senate.

24 Hour News talked with members of the senate Friday. They said they’ve also decided against investing university funds to install the blue light phones for many of the same reasons as the police department, but that they’re willing to take another look if there’s major student interest.

Lalone said they are considering other avenues outside of university funds to pay for the emergency call boxes, but that ultimately the students should have a say in how their tuition dollars are being spent.
 

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