Blue light special: Passers-by abuse campus emergency telephones

It gets orders for pizza, but it’s not Domino’s.

The U Police Department responded to 400 prank calls in the past calendar year placed on the 81 “blue light” telephones placed around campus. Only six calls were real emergencies.

“We’ve had people push it and say hi, other people order a Domino’s pizza,” U police Sgt. Lynn Rohland said. “We still have to check it out.”

Pushing the button on the blue light phone is equivalent to calling 911, and officers are forced to stop what they are doing and respond immediately.

“People need to understand that they’re abusing emergency services,” Capt. Lynn Mitchell said.

Mitchell said that this often takes his officers away from real emergencies such as dealing with robberies.

The phone lets dispatchers talk to the “person in distress,” but officers always go because they fear that someone could be having a medical emergency and become unconscious after calling.

Rohland said many prank calls come from the phones located at the TRAX stations and near the stadium-especially during big events.

The phones have been used to successfully respond to real medical emergencies like a heart attack.

“If you save one life it’s worth it, and there’s a feeling of safety you get from knowing that the phones are there,” Mitchell said.

But he acknowledges that, as the phones get used for pranks, there comes a sense of complacency.

“When you cry wolf so many times, when the real emergency comes you get a little slower,” Mitchell said.

“Blue light” phones are assigned based on location. There are still places on campus that are not well lit and do not have the phones, so U Police are considering installing more on Presidents’ Circle and around the Merrill Engineering Building.

If someone feels uneasy walking around campus after dark, they shouldn’t push an emergency phone. Instead they should call 585-COPS, and a security officer will come escort them to a place on campus, Rowland said.

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