VCU pays about $10,600 each semester to keep the more than 350 Emergency Reporting Telephone System (ERTS) phones on campus in service.
The phones date back to the 1970’s, long before students carried cell phones, but the VCU Police Department still sees the phones as integral to campus safety because they provide a direct link between students and the VCU PD.
“With the rise of cell phones over the years, we don’t get as many calls as we used to. However, the phones are great for territorial reinforcement. They make students feel safe when they are near one of them,” said officer Matthew Ruland of the VCU PD.
The phones come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on when they were installed. Ruland said they still carry a high demand value.
“We have buildings and facilities contacting us all the time about getting the phones installed in them,” Ruland said.
During the 2012-13 academic year, the phones were used 772 times, with an average of three-to-four uses each day. Shana Mell, accreditation and compliance manager of the VCU PD said receiving a call does not necessarily mean a crime happened.
“While these alerts always generate a response from our communications center, this number does not represent an accurate depiction of crime-related incidents as these alerts often occur by accident and or in error,” Mell said.
Michael Kelly, spokesperson for the VCU PD, said the crime-based calls reflect the same scenarios that a student would normally contact the police.
“After speaking with our dispatch manager, I can tell you anecdotally that we get regular calls from the ERTS phones reporting all the issues we get on our usual emergency line — noise complaints, traffic accidents and suspicious persons,” Kelly said.
Though Ruland said the phones are a valuable tool for crime solving and deterrence, they come with a price.
“They cost $30.34 per line per month. VCU Police paid for the initial buy way back in the day and still pays for about 100 lines around campus,” Kelly said. “Since the initial purchase, the cost of ERTS phones is included in construction of new buildings and building tenants are responsible for the monthly fee.”
Though the overall maintenance costs don’t lie within one specific department. The phones cost is approximately $10,600 each month With the 772 reported uses last year, the price per call is $14.
Every time a phone is used, whether it be crime-related or by accident, a direct line is established with the VCU PD.
“Once a call has been placed, we know the exact location of the phone and the caller is immediately put in touch with a dispatcher,” Ruland said.
In addition to the upkeep costs, Ruland personally checks the phones for functionality.
“I manually check every phone at least once a year to make sure they are functioning,” Ruland said. I go to the phones and make sure I get through to dispatch and I verify the specific phone’s number.”
Hilary Hambrick, an education major, said she agreed with Ruland’s idea of the phones acting as a crime deterrent.
“I think they are good to have around. They make me feel safer with their security presence, and the flashing lights with some of them are a great feature. Lit areas generally really help,” Hambrick said.
Despite the upkeep costs, Kelly said the VCU PD sees the phones as an invaluable tool in terms of campus safety.
“We think the phones have substantive value as an easy way for folks to connect directly with the police department,” Kelly said. “They are also helpful as a crime deterrent and are valuable in defining our campuses since the university blends in so extensively with the city.”