Facing the red Woodburn clock, a campus tour guide last month began his safety spiel. To reassure anxious parents, he described the layers of campus safety measures.
He introduced the various state and local police forces, the Safety Escort program and even mentioned city and campus buses as safety features.
“Anything I’m forgetting?” he asked his fellow guide.
“We also have the blue lights,” she said. “But I don’t think they’ve ever been used in an emergency.”
She isn’t wrong — in the past six months, IU Police Department responded to seven complaints of suspicious people or vehicles, 88 complaints of harassment or intimidation, 54 assaults, four forcible fondlings and five rapes. Not once did victims use a blue light emergency phone to report the crimes.
The proper use of the blue lights is to hit their red button when in an emergency. This activates a strobe light to draw attention to the area and dials 911 to IUPD.
The University spends between $12,000 and $15,000 annually to maintain the lights. A new light costs about $4,200 to purchase, according to cost estimates from the manufacturer.
“If we get a call from one of those phones, whether or not someone was on the other end talking, we send an officer to check on that,” IUPD Captain Andy Stephenson said. “If you hit that emergency button, it’s a serious thing for us. We treat that as an emergency situation.”
When blue lights are hit, IUPD patrol officers drive to the location, canvass the area and consistently find nothing. This happens almost every day.
In this charade, time is wasted on a campus where four to six officers typically share responsibility for more than 48,000 students. Or at least the students who live on campus, since IUPD’s main jurisdiction is bounded by 17th Street, Indiana Avenue, Third Street and the bypass.
In the last 10 years, IUPD has received more than 4,600 calls from blue lights. In the collective memory of veteran IUPD officers, there have only been four legitimate calls from the phones in the last 20 years.
The first blue lights were installed by 1989 at a time when the IU Office of Women’s Affairs wanted more safety features on campus. This coincided with a push by Women’s Affairs for more public telephones and more publicity for the Women’s Wheels program, now called Safety Escort.
Almost 15 years later, IU’s student government questioned the usefulness of the blue lights.
On the day the Crimson ticket took office in 2003, executives passed a resolution asking the IU Commission on Personal Safety to perform a detailed study on the maintenance, response time and overall dependability of the blue emergency lights.
The study was never executed, said Jonathan Deck, then IU Student Association safety director,last month. He said he can’t remember why.
Today, students don’t think about them, even in situations when they could be used.
Just this semester, on the east side of the Student Recreational Sports Center,a male student reported he was approached by a 6-foot-tall black man in the early hours of a February morning.
The man asked the 19-year-old if he had any money and patted him down, according to an IUPD report. Finding nothing, the man stabbed him in the abdomen and fled, according to the report.
The student ran.
He wasn’t thinking about the cell phone in his pocket. He wasn’t thinking about his surroundings. He wasn’t thinking about much at all besides getting to safety.
He was not thinking about the blue lights.
Instead, the student arrived at his dorm in the central neighborhood and asked a friend to take him to the hospital.
IU’s enrollment website is inaccurate about the number of phones.
IUPD dispatchers inconsistently log the calls and sometimes file them as 911 calls, not blue light calls, Stephenson said.
Administrators admit to having little knowledge about the blue lights.
There are no evaluations of which phones are most used, only anecdotal evidence, and there have been no formal comparisons by IU of the phone locations to crime maps.
The only people with detailed knowledge of the phones are those who maintain them once a month and the IUPD officers, such as officer Brandon Koppelmann, who deal with them every day.
One night this semester, Koppelmann stood in the squad room at IUPD’s station.
It was almost midnight. He wasn’t quite halfway through his 12-hour patrol shift, but he’d just finished a Monster and needed to stop.
During the break, he chatted with other officers.
“Bet you the one on 6th and Dunn goes off,” an officer perched on a table said.
The others nodded and chuckled in agreement — it’s common knowledge at IUPD that the blue light located there is pressed most. The speculation is that it’s mostly hit by drunk people walking home from bars as a joke.
“I was working days last week, though, and the one behind Simon biology got hit twice,” the same perched officer said. “Both times, I heard people laughing. Wonder who that was.”
Standard procedure dictates that an officer must report to any blue light that is pressed. Most days on the job, officers can sacrifice a few minutes to do this.
Many weekends, officers deal with students binge drinking and drunkenly walking across campus and passing out. They still make time to respond to blue light antics.
However, during Little 500, the danger increases.
As people swarm IU’s campus, dozens of calls come into IUPD dispatch, including ones from blue lights.
One Little 5, while Stephenson was a sergeant, there were just too many calls. He chose to instruct officers that unless someone on the other end of the line actually reports a crime, they should disregard all blue light calls.
That weekend, the blue lights, with a 99.9 percent false-call record, were just a distraction.
The blue lights are unevenly distributed, and campus-crime hot spots are far from the lights, according to IU Police Department crime data mapped by the Indiana Daily Student from Oct. 1, 2015, to April 4, 2016.
There are 56 emergency phones that dial IUPD when pressed, according to documents from building systems, the campus unit responsible for maintaining the blue lights.
Most lights are bunched in the southern academic part of campus. There are some scattered across the northern part of campus where most residence centers and apartments are located, but roughly twice as many are in the southern half of campus.
More than half of the lights are located in parking lots or garages on campus. Female faculty surveyed in the 1980s identified these areas as ones in which they feel particularly unsafe.
The placement of the blue lights is inconsistent with crime trends on IU’s campus in the last six months. Crime tends to cluster around McNutt Quad, Wright Quad, Willkie Quad, the School of Public Health and greek houses.
There is only one blue light in the northwest neighborhood where Foster Quad, McNutt Quad and Briscoe Quad residence halls are located, one light diagonally across the street from Wright and one emergency phone on the northeast side of the School of Public Health.
There are no blue lights on North Jordan Avenue, home to many fraternity and sorority houses, and none in any athletic complex areas, including Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall.
Although IUPD does not have primary jurisdiction off campus, about 10 percent of the crimes answered by IUPD since October occurred outside of campus boundaries. No blue lights exist off the main campus, except for outlying IU properties and in the downtown-Kirkwood area.
In addition to off-campus crime, much crime occurs indoors, usually perpetrated by someone the victim knows, IUPD Capt. Andy Stephenson said.
The emergency phones are intended to deal with random attacks on people out in the open.
“The types of crimes that would be reported through the use of those phones don’t happen very often,” Stephenson said.
When those types of crime do happen, they usually happen in a private location, such as someone’s dorm. If they do happen out in the open, students almost always dial 9-1-1 on their cellphone.
The phones were installed in the late 1980s, before cellphones, and in 2016 a vast majority of 9-1-1 calls have been made via cellphone, Stephenson said.
Stephenson said the four legitimate calls from the blue lights, in the collective memory of veteran IUPD officers, occurred mostly in the early 2000s. Two were fights, one was for a suspicious person and one was for an injury in a parking lot.
“Unless you happen to be standing close to the phone, people aren’t going to go out of their way to use one of those phones when they have a cell phone in their possession,” Stephenson said.
Meanwhile, new blue lights are installed with every new construction on campus, said Andrew Lowry, building systems assistant director. He said the most recent installation is by the Global and International Studies Building, which was constructed last year.
Mark Bruhn, associate vice president for public safety and institutional assurance, said he believes the lights potentially prevent crimes.
All parties involved with the lights, from Stephenson to Lowry to Bruhn and John Applegate, another administrator who oversees IUPD, say the phones exist to provide a sense of security.
IUSA Chief of Staff Sara Zaheer said this is a false sense of security.
She said she appreciates the proactive nature of the lights, but worries the lights encourage people to take fewer safety precautions. She also said some administrators with whom she works are aware students do not even know how the lights work.
Some students, Zaheer said, believe users should press one light’s button, run to press another and repeat this process so police can track someone in distress.
Other students believe a physical shield or some other form of protection will spring from the lights to help people in danger, she said.
“Having blue lights isn’t enough,” Zaheer said. “We have the capability of doing more.
The IU administration has never evaluated whether or not the blue lights are useful.
John Applegate, executive vice president for University academic affairs and the administrator who oversees IUPD, said he believes not enough data is collected from the emergency phones to map and evaluate their effectiveness.
“My understanding is they’re used extremely rarely for emergencies,” Applegate said.
He’s right in that the phones are almost never used to report crimes. But people are still dialing IUPD dispatch from the phones almost every day. Applegate said he does not know much about the rate at which the lights are used.
“I’m not aware that that’s a huge problem, but I’m sure it does happen,” Applegate said. “Prank calls and false alarms certainly happen from time to time.”
Since October, 113 calls have been made from the blue lights. In the last 10 years, more than 4,600 calls have been made. Only four were legitimate, as far as veteran IUPD officers can remember.
Applegate said he feels no more investment should be made in blue lights, but with every new campus construction comes a new blue light, Assistant Director of Building Systems Andrew Lowry said. In the last 10 years, IU has paid the distributor of the lights nearly $250,000.
Administrators and police say the lights can prevent crime. In 2010, the IU Student Association studied safety and reported 72 percent of student respondents felt the blue lights made campus safer.
However, several colleges across the country have removed the emergency phones, including the University of California, Davis and New Mexico State University, citing their high cost, lack of use and the prevalence of cellphones.
Applegate said even though blue lights are “not a major aspect” of the safety programs on campus, IU’s phones should not be removed.
The University police have primary jurisdiction over campus, plus one block. Beyond this area, Bloomington Police Department officers have primary jurisdiction.
Still, many students live off-campus and according to a study by IUSA in 2010, the farther students live from campus, the less safe they feel, even while on campus.
Mark Bruhn, associate vice president for public safety and institutional assurance, said the University and its police force can only take responsibility for what happens in its area of primary jurisdiction as decided by state statute and a Board of Trustees resolution.
“The official response to that is if it occurs outside the geographical borders of the campus, it’s going to be a Bloomington Police Department case,” Bruhn said. “We’re going to contact Bloomington Police Department for periodic updates. If they ask us to be involved, we will be involved.”
However, IUPD does work outside its jurisdiction through a partnership with BPD for “Quiet Nights,” a program that puts one IUPD and one BPD officer in a patrol vehicle. The pair stay on call for noise violation complaints on the weekends. They are not dispatched for other kinds of calls, unless a severe situation arises.
There are no joint patrols specifically for off-campus student safety.
After the kidnapping and murder of IU student Hannah Wilson, though, IUPD Chief Laury Flint has been telling her officers to disregard jurisdiction lines.
She encourages them to “swing out” during their patrols to cover off-campus areas frequented by students, in hopes of preventing that kind of crime from happening again.
Wilson lived just two blocks from the west edge of campus, at the corners of Eighth and Dunn streets.
“People like to see us,” Flint said. “It makes them feel safe, so we tried to increase patrols in some of those areas.”
In 1985, IUPD employed 59 full-time officers. In 2016, IUPD employs 40 full-time officers. This officer reduction occurs as the University enrollment increases. In the fall of 1985, there were 32,816 students. In 2015, 48,514 enrolled in the fall, including 7,875 freshman.
IUPD does not meet the minimum recommended number of full-time officers per thousand people, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, when considering more than 48,000 people are on campus during the day.
IU should have about 86 officers, based on student enrollment.
Flint said the University’s top priority is education, and budgeting preference is given to academic units over non-academic units, such as IUPD.
Applegate said vacated positions are sometimes eliminated for efficiency, at Flint’s discretion, but IUPD Capt. Andy Stephenson said any loss in manpower hurts IUPD.
“Not only does it decrease the number of police officers we’re able to put out on patrol, it also forces everyone we have that works here to do additional tasks,” Stephenson said. “It makes us less effective all around, to lose positions.”
Recently, four IUPD officer positions were made system-wide positions, Flint said. This reduced the number of officers who serve just the Bloomington campus.
All full-time officers are critical to either patrols or investigations, Stephenson said.
IUPD’s capacity for community relations is almost nonexistent at its current staffing level, and he said he hopes this can improve moving forward.
“We don’t have the numbers to put some officers out on foot patrol at the library or the Union to get to know people,” Stephenson said. “It’s not all because of our staffing level, but it would make it a lot easier if we had additional personnel that weren’t critical to the patrol function.”
Part-time officers and IUPD cadets help meet the needs of IU’s growing campus, administrators said, and exist as answers for not meeting the minimum number of officers per thousand people.
IUPD annually employs 30 to 40 part-time officers, Flint said. They are full-time students, but they have graduated the police academy and are fully certified, sworn law enforcement officials. They live in and mostly patrol dorms.
Part-time officers can save the University money, Flint said. They are paid less, and, perhaps more importantly, they are not provided benefits.
IUPD is striving to add full-time positions.
Adding only one position is not enough though, Flint said. Several positions should be added at a time to make a difference. However, the more positions IUPD requests at a time, the less likely it is that the request is granted, Flint said.
“Our goal every fiscal year is to increase our number of personnel,” Stephenson said. “It’s going to take some time to build IUPD into what it needs to be, but it’s going to happen.”