“I think it’s a big problem”: Why SGA is concerned with GSUPD

The Georgia State Call Boxes located throughout campus have been out of order for the past few months. Photo by Julian Pineda | The Signal

Georgia State safety has once again made it to the hot topic list within the university’s student government. Senators have been bringing up lack of officer attendance, functionality of call boxes and concerns with the police department, and are actively looking for solutions. Concerns that the GSUPD chief confirmed the department has addressed.

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One major concern in SGA’s last January meeting was absence of officers around town at night time. Senators brought up both the presence of police on campus as well as GSUPD response time.

SGA Sen. Usama Lakhani said he is so concerned with the issue, he’s considering putting forth new legislation.

“I think it’s a big problem,” he said. “A very serious concern.”

Lakhani said he first noticed the issue when he started a new class in the evenings, and had to walk around class after dark.

“I have a class on Tuesday evening, my class finished at 9:15 [p.m.] and when I walk from Aderhold I barely see any police cars,” he said. “I even observed last class, when I was walking back, nothing.

He said that even though sometimes he may see a police car around Langdale, he almost never sees officers walking around.

The same concern is what sparked Sen. Franklin Patterson’s legislation last semester implementing a new safety committiee, acting as a bridge between GSUPD, SGA members and Georgia State students. Since the new piece of legislation, the AD-HOC committee has met over 10 times and allowed police officers to get in touch with student concerns right from the source. Committee attendance is in the low single digit numbers, but it has helped Patterson understand the struggles the police department has to face. He said it would be helpful if more students attended and gave their opinion, instead of blaming GSUPD after an incident.

POLICE RECRUITMENT

One of the greatest challenges, Patterson said, is GSUPD’s lack of budget. A lack of funding towards new staff, meaning less officers patrolling university grounds.

“When something goes down, unfortunately it’s a budget issue,” Patterson said.

But accoring to GSUPD chief Joseph Spillane, budget is not an issue at all for the department. Recruiting takes a long time simply because of the training.

“We’re continuing to hire, we have all year,” he said. “It’s definitely not a recruitment issue, because we have people apply.” But hiring police officers requires an adequate amount of training, something that for police “you can’t do overnight.”

After their last budget update on July 1, GSUPD opened 22 new slots in the department, and Spillane said he’s been receiving comments from the public about the addition of new faces. He said a lack of staff is not a concern and that he feels the campus is well patrolled by officers at all times.

“If you walk around campus, you see police men everywhere,” Spillane told The Signal. “If you start to notice, police are out there in droves.”

And as for response time, that’s not a point of concern for Spillane either. He said the campus police respond to all incidents on Georgia State grounds within one minute.

NONFUNCTIONAL CALL BOXES

Another concern brought forth by the senators was call boxes on campus that don’t seem to be working. Call boxes in M Deck, and the one located outside Student Center East, are nonfunctional, with a sign that alerts passersby to call the GSUPD hotline in case of an emergency. Police, Spillane said, are aware and are evaluating the call box system.

“The call boxes on campus are very old and really out of date,” the chief said. So, the department has begun an evaluation on the placement and efficiency of the emergency systems.

Spillane said the department tests the boxes each month and puts signs on them to let students know they aren’t working, and instead, recommend that students download the department’s LiveSafe app, which provides services like emergency alerts, escort requests and suspicious activity reports.

He said call boxes were never really used that much on campus but provided a sense of security for students.

“Call boxes don’t really get used, students just feel safe that they’re out there,” Spillane said, adding that this is a national trend. “Most schools around the country are finding out that call boxes aren’t being used.”

That lack of usage was something Sen. Patterson was also famiiar with.

“Rarely were they actually being used,” he said. ”They are doing more research to figure out the areas that actually need the blue boxes. They just want to make sure the blue boxes are in the areas that actually help people.”

And that’s because there’s better technology today than when call boxes were initially installed.

“Back when they weren’t installed, at night, you didn’t have a cell phone,” Spillane said. “Now everyone has a cell phone so instead of going to call boxes, they just call 911 or use the [LiveSafe] app.”

Spillane said the department has not yet concluded on whether they’ll get rid of or replace the call boxes, and where the new ones would be placed. But if the emergency devices were replaced, the chief said the technology would be upgraded.

“We’re looking at call boxes with cameras mounted on top of them,” he said. But despite the possible upgrade, Spillane said he would still like to see more students download the app, designed to send quicker alerts.


William Solomons contributed to this article.

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