Walking home from Gelman late at night, one may not feel in danger per se, but the situation can be somewhat unnerving. The occasional passerby, car or UPD officer provide a comforting feeling, but a commonly recognized symbol of campus safety among many college students is the blue light system. The blue light system is especially vital to an urban campus such as GW’s, but the University’s system is marred by out-of-order lights and a lack of accurate information. Regardless of how often people actually press blue light buttons for safety reasons, UPD needs to gather more information about this system and ensure that every device is working properly.
The blue light system is a resource for people on campus who, when in danger, can press a button and be connected to the University Police Department. According to protocol, an officer will then be dispatched to that location to help. Blue lights are common on college campuses, though according to reports, they are typically pressed accidentally or by people who are looking for directions. GW’s own blue light system is used primarily for the same reasons, according to University data. Even though people may not use blue lights for their intended purposes, they have an important purpose nonetheless.
Questions surrounding the efficacy and prominence of GW’s blue light stations remain unanswered, and our confidence in the system itself has been shaken. It is unacceptable that UPD can not, or will not, produce documents to show the average response time between when a blue light is pressed and when an officer arrives on the scene. If UPD wants to utilize this system in any way, it needs to have accurate and up-to-date information on how reliable the system is, though it can gather this information easily during blue light drills. Similarly, the inconsistent numbers UPD provides for how many blue lights exist on campus is troubling. UPD needs to step back and gather the right information, make it public and perform the required drills with frequency.
The problems surrounding the blue light system also extend to the out-of-order lights. Whether a light is covered because of construction – such as the area near the Smith Center – or a light keeps flashing days after someone pushed the button, UPD needs to ensure that all available lights are functioning. A section of campus with a blue light that is out-of-order may soon turn into a target area for crime, unless UPD establishes another way for students to quickly get in touch with a dispatcher. When one light is out, it affects the entire purpose of the system.
UPD needs to update its information on the blue light system and ensure that all lights are working properly, not only for current students, but for prospective students as well. STAR tour guides frequently point to the blue light system as an important part of campus safety, yet they do not have accurate information. How is it that a STAR guide can tell prospective Colonials and their parents that the average response time is 90 seconds, when UPD claims a different number? It is just as troubling when a guide discusses the blue lights but shows the members of the tour a blue light station that is covered in an out-of-order canvas. The information guides provide is simply untrue, and GW needs to fix this problem if it wants to continue to uphold the blue light system as an integral part of safety on campus.
The problems surrounding the blue light system on GW’s campus are disconcerting, but UPD can gather information about the blue lights and ensure that all the lights are working properly. Even if the blue light system is only one aspect of UPD’s campus safety plan, it does serve as a source of comfort for students and deserves the utmost attention.
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