October 24, 2006

Blue Lights Link Students To Police

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In the middle of the day, the Cornell campus can be exceedingly welcoming; the autumn trees manage to maintain their striking orange and red leaves even after the numerous rainstorms, and countless students scurry across the quads.

Once night falls, a student could swear he has found himself on a different campus: the University is dark, silent and vast. Walking to a distant dorm or apartment can suddenly seem to be a perilous journey.

What many students do not know is that the Blue Lights shining from numerous points on-campus offer services to make the walk home a little less frightening. According to Campus Watch 2006-2007, there are currently 104 of these Blue Lights, each of which is connected to a phone. By lifting the receiver, a student is connected to the Cornell Police. Upon receiving the call, the police automatically know the location of the student.

“If the phone rings and no one answers, [the police are] guaranteed to respond within two minutes,” said Ray Price, the crime prevention officer at the Cornell Police Department.

Students can call if they feel they are in danger and expect a quick response from the C.U. Police. However, the use of these phones is not restricted to emergency situations.

“We tell kids they can call for anything except for ordering pizza,” said Price.

Students can use the phones to obtain directions or medical assistance, to ask for help with a flat tire or to report mischief.

One program unique to the Blue Light phones is the Blue Light escort service. Upon request, a pair of trained student escorts will meet students at the phone and walk them to any on-campus destination between the hours of 8 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. Students can also request escorts by calling 255-7373 from any phone.

“We have two teams of two out every night,” said Molly Leibowitz ’07, who has worked as a student escort since her freshman year. “The closest team will be sent out to the sight of the dispatcher. It should take no longer than fifteen to twenty minutes.”

Though the escorts are not trained to physically defend anyone, they can offer company to a student who is unfamiliar with the campus or uncomfortable walking alone late at night. The service is especially valuable considering the recent slew of University Crime Alerts.
“[Students] are going to feel safer knowing there’s someone there for them,” Price said.

According to Leibowitz, students usually request escorts after a late night at one of the libraries. International graduate students utilize the service most often.

“They’re the most aware of the service,” said Leibowitz, “and grad students tend to live further off-campus than undergrads.”

If necessary, the escorts can walk students to stops for the Blue Light Buses.

These buses “are just one of the TCAT routes. The main difference is the fair medium.” said David Lieb, assistant director for public information at Cornell Transportation and Mail Services.

Though a student must pay a fee to ride a TCAT, between the hours of 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. a student may ride the TCAT Blue Light Buses (Route 92 and 93) by merely showing a CUID.

According to Lieb, ridership on the Blue Light buses has increased of late. Unfortunately, the Blue Light Escort service is rarely employed.

“We’re lucky if we get one or two [escorts] used in a night,” Price said.
Though there are advertisements for escorts throughout campus, many students remain ignorant of the service.

“I think if people were more aware they’d use it more,” Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz also cited that even those who are aware of the escort program “are intimidated by the service.” However, she emphasized that escorts are chosen “so they’re nice and extroverted people.”

Even if students are unwilling to request an escort, this program remains a valuable asset for the safety of the Cornell community. Because the C.U. Police can never be aware of everything that is occurring on campus at one time, the escorts can keep an eye out for any instances that would require the attention of the police.

“[Our duty] is to be aware of suspicious activity on campus and communicate to the dispatcher something that seems out of order,” Leibowitz said.

Price believes that another method of increasing the safety of the University would be to increase the number of Blue Lights on campus. As the West Campus Initiative continues, more Blue Lights are appearing on West.

In addition, according to Campus Watch 2006-2007, there are currently 324 indoor emergency phones similar to the Blue Light phones.

“The ideal situation is that [the outdoor phones] are 100 feet apart,” Price said.

Unfortunately, it will be difficult to achieve this goal because of the financial burden of obtaining more phones, which cost $5,000 each.
Still, “being as expensive as [the phones] are, the University has been very good at getting them in,” Price said.

“[Blue] is a low frequency band of light that allows it to be seen from farther away,” Lieb said.