The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW Police takes measures to improve campus security

4 min read

The blue light system allows students to alert police from different locations around campus. (Photo courtesy from John Wray / The Blue & Gray Press)


Staff Writer

The blue light phone system on the UMW campus is a unique feature of campus safety. These phones are placed across campus in many accessible areas of the property so, in the event of an emergency, they can be used quickly and efficiently. These phones allow people to call help to the scene and communicate with the dispatch center in Brent Hall.

Recently, there was speculation among the campus community that these blue light phones are being removed from campus and from the roster of available campus safety implements. That rumor was incorrect.

The blue light phones on UMW’s campus are “absolutely not” being removed or taken away, according to the University Police Department Chief Michael Hall. Instead of removing the blue light phones, the security infrastructure on campus is being improved upon.

Last year, Hall appointed a task force following concerns about the campus’ blue light phone system. This task force was responsible for discussing the blue lights, the number of them, their strategic placement and their effectiveness on campus.

“The task force was formed, comprised of students, faculty, staff, emergency management, law enforcement,” said Hall. “They’ve met and looked at all the data so far.”

After the task force reviewed the data, they made recommendations to the University’s Police Department for how safety on campus could improve. One of their suggestions was to ensure that every new blue light phone on campus had a surveillance camera. This suggestion comes from both a place of safety concern and financial responsibility.

By installing new blue light phones with cameras, the University is streamlining the security process, and making sure that funding is effectively allocated. Ensuring that each strategically placed blue light pole has a camera reduces the need for additional surveillance in specific areas.

The University pays approximately $30,000 annually for the blue light phone service, with each new phone unit costing anywhere between $8,000-$10,000. In total, the University employs the use of around 211 blue light phones, 194 of which are on the Fredericksburg campus.

These 194 blue lights do not include those being added to the campus safety system during the renovations of both Willard Hall and the Jepson Science Center. Once these renovation projects are completed, an approximated additional 40 cameras will be deemed online and in-use. In addition to these cameras, several new safety features will be added, including new style locks, improved access control, card entry versus hard keys, and cameras on all entrances and elevators.

“The blue lights are a sense of deterrent to the people around us and it’s also a sense of security,” said Hall. “More cameras are coming on board, the patrols on campus, the officers’ interactions — those are elements that tell outside community [members] we take [security] seriously.”

The new and updated safety features will help prevent unsafe, suspicious or harmful activity from occurring on campus. As reported on Oct. 3, there have been multiple instances of sexual battery in Virginia Hall over the past several months.

The most recent incident, which occurred on Sept. 19, involved a student from another university entering the residence hall and committing assault against a UMW student.

These incidents have shaken some students’ confidence in the safety of the campus.

“I feel like, after the things that happened in Virginia Hall, there definitely needs to be more safety measures put in place to prevent unknown people from walking into the dorms,” said Diana Ramirez, freshman.

An additional safety measure that the UMW Police Department suggests students use is the Rave Guardian smartphone application. This app is available for free on both Apple and Android devices and provides many safety features. The app allows the user to send anonymous tips, receive safety updates, and call or text the police department. Other features include the ability to find appropriate safety resources and set a safety timer when walking alone.

The alerts and messages from this app go directly to the UMW Police Department dispatch center which is located in Brent Hall.

“The Rave Guardian App, in my opinion, gets a quick, instant, response,” said Chief Hall.

Although the Rave Guardian app offers features that can assist with safety on campus, many students have not heard of it.

“I’ve never heard about the Rave Guardian app,” said Simon Jones, freshman. “[The University] should definitely advertise [the app], I know tons of people who would use it.”

In the wake of the incidences in Virginia Hall, students are concerned with their safety on campus, but respect the work the campus police are doing.

“I live in Virginia Hall,” said Jones. “It has been a little scary [but] I feel like the police on campus are doing the best they can. I’ve never felt unsafe walking around campus.”