Police: e-phones useful, despite false activations

Spencer Jenkins

At the push of a button, the flashing blue lights of WKU emergency phones illuminate across campus — whether the person who pushed the button needs help or not.

From Aug. 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009, the e-phones were activated 16 times, and 15 of those were considered false reports, said Mike Dowell, captain of communications and staff services for campus police.

From Jan. 2010 to Aug. 2010, 37 activations occurred, and 32 of those were considered false reports, he said.

False reports are a problem and a criminal offense, but calls cannot be ignored, Dowell said.

“I still think they’re successful — it’s difficult to say what they deter,” Dowell said. “I think they serve a purpose.”

About 75 emergency phones — or “e-phones” — stand on campus. They were put in place to ensure student safety starting in the mid-1990s.

Each phone costs about $3,000 and the installation costs about $2,000, Dowell said.

E-phones have a button that, once pushed, connects a person to the police dispatch station, he said. It also lets the dispatcher know where the person is located.

“Our response team is pretty good here on campus,” Dowell said.

If someone is being attacked and cannot stay on the phone with the dispatcher for long, the person should describe what’s going on as best as they can and seek shelter, he said.

“The more information you can give, the better it is for us,” Dowell said.

E-phones may not save lives, but they deter people from committing crimes just by being there, Dowell said. As new areas are opened on campus, e-phones will follow.

Surveillance videos work alongside the e-phones, Dowell said. If a surveillance camera is situated near an e-phone, the camera will turn to face the phone once the phone’s button is pushed.

To ensure that the e-phones work properly, police test them twice a month and the telecommunications department tests them once a week, he said.

Franklin freshman Laura Tiedt said the only time she would use an e-phone was if her cell phone was broken or dead.

“Honestly, I would probably just call 911 or a friend,” she said. “If I was about to die, I would push it I guess.”

Elizabethtown senior Rachel Milby said she thinks the e-phones could be helpful for someone who has a problem, but she forgets they’re there.

 “If I had a problem the first thing I would do is grab the thing I already have in my hand — my cell — that’s a lot quicker than running to find one of those phones,” Milby said.