UPD fights crime with cell phones

University Police plan to enlist the help of students to fight on-campus crime. Officials said beginning Tuesday, the University Police Department will partner with Sprint PCS, who is providing 40 free cell phones pre-programmed to call UPD for student volunteers to report suspicious activity.

Officials said they hope students participating in the “Campus Watch” program will report “suspicious activity or breaches in security.”

“This is an excellent opportunity for students to assist in campus security,” UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said. She said students are a valuable asset because of their presence on all parts of the campus.

“Cell phones are common, and students will be able to report things that happen to them in their normal routine,” Stafford said.

Those involved in Campus Watch will be required to attend a brief training program to familiarize themselves with the function of the phones and what should be reported.

Stafford said to encourage students to participate in the program and for their protection, UPD will keep volunteers’ names confidential.

“Volunteers will report things like suspicious packages, unattended property, crimes, fights, lights that are (burned) out and people acting suspiciously,” Stafford said. “They can immediately report potential problems and concerns.”

Student reaction to the program was mixed before it began.

“It sounds like a waste,” junior Adam Chandler said. “Students are already on campus and are responsible enough to dial 911.”

“It doesn’t hurt to try,” freshman Rob Slack said. “You can try these programs out and see what happens.”

The Campus Watch program, which has run with considerable success in other cities including New York, will be the first of its kind for a university in the D.C. area.

“Phone Call for Safety,” Sprint’s parent program, provides phones to a variety of different organizations that allow quick access to the police and emergency services.

Though there have not been any university campus watch programs in the District, other similar programs have been successful in hospitals, high schools and domestic violence shelters, Sprint spokeswoman Lisa Ihde said.

Sprint gave My Sister’s Place, a domestic violence shelter in D.C., 50 phones for use in the shelter. The phones were distributed to victims of domestic violence and used to summon the police in times of danger.

My Sister’s Place Director Judith Bennett-Sattler said the program has been successful.

“It provides a sense of security and is very often used by people in distress,” she said. “We have been very pleased with the phones.”

“The number one reason that people across the country are buying cell phones is for safety,” Ihde said. “Response time is key, and in the university setting, (Campus Watch) is a valuable resource for the campus police.”

Ihde said 150,000 emergency calls are made on cell phones each year.
UPD will answer questions and take interested volunteers for the program from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mount Vernon and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday in Kogan Plaza.

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