Increasing the number of emergency call boxes on campus continues to be a top priority for improving campus safety, said Peter Scheets, assistant chief of the UT Police Department.
Currently, UT has more than 170 yellow-and-blue emergency call boxes distributed across campus. When an individual activates a call box, they are automatically dispatched to the UTPD communications center, where the call is treated like any other 911 call.
Since 2013, call boxes have been activated an average of 160 times each year. These totals, however, can be misleading, since they also include times the call boxes were activated in non-emergency situations, such as prank calls and accidental activations. Most people don’t know the boxes are for any incidents when an individual needs the police to respond — even in cases when an individual’s life is not in danger, Lt. Robert Stock said.
“If someone is following you, and maybe you don’t think your life is danger, but it’s making you feel unsafe, that’s when you use the box,” Stock said. “You don’t have to feel imminent or immediate threat to use it.”
Shortly after the on-campus death of dance freshman Haruka Weiser last April, President Gregory Fenves requested the Texas Department of Public Safety conduct a security vulnerability assessment of campus. DPS identified increasing the number of call boxes on campus as one safety priority.
University officials also plan on creating a University-wide standard for the number of call boxes on each pathway and around buildings as well as adding video cameras to all emergency call boxes. UTPD and Campus Safety and Security plan to implement these changes in the next two years, Stock said.
“I would rather you hit a call box or dial 911 and make sure you get home safe ... rather than have something happen to you before you think it’s time to call 911,” Scheets said. “We’re not lowering the standard (of when to call 911), we’re providing another level of service.”
UTPD hopes an increase in call boxes will encourage students to dial 911 in situations when they feel unsafe, one of the main messages of the Be Safe campaign UTPD began shortly after the on-campus death of Weiser, Scheets said.
“Most people are taught as kids that 911 is only supposed to be used in a life-threatening emergency, but that’s not the case,” Scheets said. “We don’t want that to carry over to campus.”
Biochemistry sophomore Alice Kanitz said most people might still be reluctant to use the emergency call boxes, despite an increased number on campus.
“When I was little, my mom always taught me only to use 911 if it was life-threatening, like if someone was coming in with guns pointing at us (or) if my parents were in danger or hurt,” Kanitz said. “I feel like because I was taught that growing up, I’d still be reluctant to press a call box, even though I know that I have that option, because I would feel like I’m wasting an officer’s time.”