Students seek to add more call boxes to campus

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Photo Credit: Elizabeth Jones | Daily Texan Staff

Petitions written by UT students asking for an increase in on-campus emergency call boxes — blue-light telephones that automatically call the police — have circulated online following an on-campus homicide two weeks ago.

According to the University of Texas Police Department, 167 call boxes are located on campus, with 149 on the main campus and the other 18 spread out across
University-owned apartments. 

UTPD Capt. Don Verett said he cannot comment on the possibility of more call boxes being added to campus, but he said renovations or construction, such as the Dell Medical School, could result in additional call boxes as part of the design plan.

Verett said the boxes are intended to be utilized for emergencies that would typically be reported through a 911 call. However, the call box is less convenient, Verett said, because most students carry cell phones. 

“[Call boxes] give people a sense of safety, and they know that all they have to do is press that button,” Verett said. “Those blue lights are a valid reminder that they can reach the police department.”

Neuroscience sophomore Nafisa Nope started a petition through the website iPetitions in support of adding more call boxes and surveillance cameras to campus. Nope said she decided to start the petition to show that a large number of students want more security measures implemented on campus. Her petition has received 61 signatures with a goal of 100.

“Since freshman year, I remember having conversations with my friends about how few police boxes and security cameras there were and whether they would serve any real use with so few of them,” Nope said. “I’m really happy that so many have shown support so far, and I hope UT will listen to our concerns and act on them.” 

Verett said UTPD only monitors a few cameras because they actually don’t own any. Rather, individual departments own most of the cameras.

Accounting sophomore Amanda Lanter also started a petition focusing solely on adding more call boxes to campus. Her petition is currently on change.org and has 913 supporters with a goal of 1,000.

In response to student complaints about call boxes located in clusters rather than spread throughout campus, Verett said scientific data and strategic planning influence where each call box is placed.

Between January 2013 and December 2015, 948 call box activations were made, according to UTPD data. Only five of these instances were considered valid alarms, while the other activations showed no sign of criminal activity and were the result of malfunctioning equipment or unknown causes. Verett said higher access to cell phones may explain these low numbers.

Nursing junior Paige Gilmer said she supports these petitions because she thinks more call boxes will help students feel safe.

“While walking at night, I am constantly looking for the closest call box,” Gilmer said. “A lot of times, they are not in sight, so adding more would definitely put me more at ease.”

Verett said he does not know what effect the petitions will have but said administration takes them into account when evaluating campus safety.

“It’s important for us as a University and as a police department to do everything we can to not only make the campus a safe place but to also make people feel that they’re safe,” Verett said.