Of cops, safety and blue boxes
Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
Campus safety is an important topic at almost every college in the United States. Recently, I sat down with Rhode Island College's Campus Police Chief, James Mendonca, regarding this topic. Mendonca is a Marine Corps veteran with more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement.
It's now secret that ensuring safety is always on the forefront of the minds of everyone, especially now when campus violence is becoming the new normal. In a side-by-side comparison of all 10 of the colleges in Rhode Island, the data shows that RIC is one of the safest. Every year, each campus issues a security and fire safety report that breakdown things like criminal activity, resources, definitions and college policies. It is impossible for any place to be 100% safe. Mendonca says that, “The Rhode Island College Police Department can only achieve this goal [of safety] through the cooperative efforts involving all of our community members.”
Mendonca said of our officers that “The RICPD has 21 sworn personnel, all of whom are former graduates of a Rhode Island Police Officers Commission on Standards and Training certified police academy prior to hiring. All of our officers have served with municipal law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island prior to being employed by the College, and most of them have served previously in supervisory, investigative, and/or administrative capacities. Unlike the other state institutions, Rhode Island College does not maintain a support staff of non-sworn personnel, with the exception of our Data Management/Clery Act Compliance Coordinator. Campus Police Officers are on-duty and available to assist our campus community 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.” This means that, yes, all of our officers are in fact, real police officers with experience.
Mendonca added, “Campus police officers respond to a variety of service calls, such as calls relating to theft, disorderly conduct, suspicious persons, requests for medical aid, fire alarms, and traffic and parking matters. However, most of our calls for service are assistance requests that are not related to criminal activity.”
Those blue safety boxes — what are they about? Mendonca explained, “There are 52 outdoor emergency phones, housed in blue Lexan cases with a blue light on top, that are mounted to either buildings or stanchions. These phones comprise our Blue Light Emergency Telephone System, and can only be used for emergency calls for service. Each phone has a speed calling button and an automatic location identifier.” Mendonca went on to explain that “calls and identifier information are routed to the Campus Police dispatcher, who will know your location when the call is answered. BLETS is also capable of audibly broadcasting timely warnings and emergency notifications from the Campus Police Dispatch Center should an on-campus emergency arise.When getting acquainted with the campus, students should try to note the locations of these phones.”
Meeting with Mendonca afforded me the opportunity to try one of these boxes.
After alerting dispatch that we were testing the system, I pressed the call button. After three seconds, I saw a green light flashing, showing that my call had been answered. A police officer spoke to me through the box, asking if I was safe and informing me that help was on the way. The blue light on the very top of the system also flashed, making it easier to verify the location of my call.
Should you ever need to call campus police, here is what to expect: “When someone calls the RICPD for an emergency or a non-emergency call for service, the phone will be answered by the Campus Police dispatcher who will ask the caller about the nature of the service required. The officer will ask probing questions relating to safety concerns and hazards in order to provide the most appropriate response to the incident, including whether additional RICPD officers and/or outside agency first responders and resources are required.” Mendonca also explained that “calls for service will be prioritized and officers will be dispatched based upon the urgency of the event and the volume of calls being handled at the time. Generally speaking, the response time to on-campus calls for service is two to three minutes.”
Medonca advises the RIC community that “the safety of our students and all members of our campus community is the priority of the RICPD, and we periodically send out campus-wide notifications with important information intended to provide preventative and responsive support. We encourage everyone to read these notifications and follow the helpful tips and suggestions therein.” In regards to personal safety, Mendonca suggests that “there are a variety of precautions that everyone can take to help ensure their safety. For instance, when walking at night, plan your route beforehand. Walk confidently and with a purpose. Avoid being distracted by your cell phone, and don’t wear headphones. Stay clear of dark alleyways and parking lots where individuals can easily hide. Whenever possible, walk with a group of friends. If you can, take public transportation or a rideshare. Lastly, ALWAYS trust your instincts whenever you sense danger.”