An East Carolina University student walks past one of the Blue-Light Phones on campus near Joyner Library and the Main Campus Student Center.

As on and off-campus safety precautions continue to generate discussion among the East Carolina University community, ECU officials have found the Emergency Blue-Light Phones located throughout the university’s campus to be obsolete and not often used by students.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Auxiliary Services William Koch said in an email statement that due to the growth of student cell phone usage on campus, the university has noted the decreased usage of ECU’s Emergency Blue-Light Phones since his time at ECU.

College campuses throughout the state have seen similar emergency systems decline in popularity as well, Koch said, and many have either removed or are not looking to expand their on-campus emergency phones. He said although ECU has experienced the same issue, a survey conducted by the Student Government Association in 2010 revealed that students generally felt safer with the presence of Blue-Light Phones.

“Cameras have been a valuable tool for ECU Police and Greenville Police to deter crime and make faster arrests when crimes occur,” Koch said.

Eventually, Koch said initiatives made by ECU safety officials to implement new internal hardware into the Blue-Light Phones that allowed the university to update the system’s security technology efficiently followed the survey, as well as the ability to install security cameras within each Blue-Light Phone. He said whenever the university feels security coverage on campus should be expanded within a certain area, Blue-Light Phones are implemented to reduce campus safety costs.

ECU’s Emergency Blue-Light Phones connection to the university’s fiber-optic network allows the system to operate as a security technology platform and expand outdoor campus Wi-Fi coverage, Koch said, and safety officials have made efforts to connect outdoor speakers as well as the security cameras to expand coverage of the campus.

Koch said the university is unable to install Blue-Light Phones outside of campus due to jurisdictional preventions, though the Greenville and ECU Police Departments have collaborated to implement cameras with emergency blue lights in key locations along the Grid and other areas of Greenville. The university has also promoted the use of the LiveSafe application to students, Koch said, an app that allows communication with ECU and Greenville Police via call or text on and off campus in case of emergency.

“The ECU Police also have citywide jurisdiction so they can better assist students where they live throughout the city,” Koch wrote. “ECU Police work with GPD to patrol the Uptown District and the Grid to help reduce crime in those areas and help keep our students safe, especially late at night as they enjoy Uptown and walk back home to the Grid.”

Chris Sutton, field operations captain of ECU PD, said in an email statement that the Emergency Blue-Light Phones found across campus are highly visible phones that offer two-way communication with ECU PD. When in use, Sutton said the blue light on the emergency phone will flash until police can assist. He said there are approximately 190 Blue- Light Phones across campus that are placed in high-risk areas intended to assist students in emergencies.

Cell phones are the primary forms of contact ECU PD receives in their emergency and nonemergency calls, Sutton said, though the most common occurrence of Blue-Light Phone usage is in situations where students cannot access a cell phone. He said information regarding the use of Blue-Light Phones on campus is usually discussed through programming offered to campus residents, though the pandemic has created challenges for in-person discussions.

“I think the popularity and accessibility of cell phones has reduced the use of Blue-Light Phones. As a safety tool, it is not something we are looking to replace,” Sutton said. “The Blue-Light Phones and LiveSafe appare tools to help ECU overmanage safety.”

In addition to the Blue-Light Phones, Sutton said ECU PD maintains several hundred security cameras that cover both ECU’s east and west campuses and are monitored by telecommunicators trained for emergency services. He said the university has implemented “incandescent pole and exterior building lights” throughout campus that are brighter and more efficient, as well as a Crime Suppression Team that works to pinpoint and mitigate campus crime hotspots.

Sutton said locations throughout Greenville are patrolled by ECU PD to minimize crimes within areas of student living. The most recent armed robbery reported in September was the first since 2019, Sutton said, though other crimes where the victim is familiar with the offender may occur more frequently. He said ECU and Greenville PD routinely meet with campus community leadership to discuss safety and security measures on and off campus.

The LiveSafe app offered to all ECU students has seen an increased usage since its promotion, Sutton said, though the app would see an increase in benefits if ECU PD saw more downloads from the campus community. The app allows students to submit tip reports to ECU and Greenville PD quickly and efficiently, Sutton said, and information submitted is monitored 24/7. ECU PD will then receive the user’s GPS coordinates and emergency contact information.

“The collaboration between these agencies (Greenville and ECU PD) is more robust than it has ever been,” Sutton wrote. “We constantly share intelligence information and offer support regarding patrols, investigations and community education programs.”

Freshman biology major Kailyn Kelly said though she’s never used the Emergency Blue-Light 

Phones on central campus personally, she appreciates their presence at the university due to her dorm’s location on Central Campus. She said she was told about the Blue-Light Phones and their general purpose during her orientation to ECU and from other current students.

In addition to the Blue-Light Phones, Kelly said ECU informed her of the LiveSafe App and she chose to download it to generally feel safer during her walks through campus to her dorm. She said she appreciates the university’s safety measures and though additional resources would always be helpful, she doesn’t know what else could be implemented without increasing ECU PD’s presence on campus.

“I get really anxious when it’s dark outside, so knowing that they are there and having to walk home, or having to walk to my dorm, knowing that they are there has helped a lot,” Kelly said.

Annie Grove, sophomore psychology major, said she’s lived in a student living complex near ECU’s campus throughout the fall semester and that the Blue-Light Phones generally make her feel safer on her walks to class. Walking to and from her complex can be uncomfortable, Kelly said, especially at night when not many people are active in Uptown Greenville. 

Grove said she’s never heard about the LiveSafe App offered by ECU, but her phone often dies and an increase in Blue-Light Phones throughout Uptown would be a practical measure for ECU students who often make their walks from class to other complexes in the area.

“I do think ECU does a really good job of being there, making you feel safe, I mean the cops are always driving around, they (the campus) always have lights,” Grove said. “But it would be nice to have more outside of campus.”

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