Proposals to add more blue light security phones near the Northwestern University campus are prompting a discussion of whether the phones actually make the area safer.

Plans to add phones at Tallmadge Park on Colfax Street east of Ridge Avenue and at the intersection of Haven Street and Orrington Avenue are scheduled to be discussed at an NU/City Committee meeting Wednesday evening.

Alderman Judy Fiske told residents at her 1st Ward meeting earlier this week that she’d asked Police Chief Richard Eddington for a report on the number of emergency calls placed from blue light phones over the past four years and that he told her there’d been “less than five of any consequence.”

“Police have to respond to each one of them anyway,” Fiske said, “Even if somebody walking by just presses the button and walks on.”

“Of the real calls,” Fiske said, “One was from Fireman’s Park and two were at the Davis Street CTA station.”

Jeanne Lindwall, of 625 Library Place, said that living in the neighborhood she finds the phones “really intrusive.”

“Their lights are pretty bright when you’re trying to sleep,” she added.

Barbara Janes, of 802 Colfax St., cited news reports that students at the University of Colorado are urging removal of blue light phones, calling them expensive and obsolete — given that most students now carry cell phones with them around campus.

Kevin Harris, vice president for community relations of NU”s Associated Student Government, said Northwestern is considering providing students with an app for their mobile phones that would provide a “panic button” that could be used to quickly call police.

But he said officials at the university police department have expressed concerns about the app solution, because while essentially all students have cell phones, not all of them have the smart phones that could use the new apps.

“You’ll find blue lights on every single college campus,” Harris said, “It does make a difference for students in feeling safe coming home at night.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Too Bright?
    They’re too bright? Really? Does she sleep with her eyes open?

    Its better to have these things and not need them then have something happen because they don’t exist.

    As to the question does it make the area safer? Maybe it does since they haven’t needed to be used a ton supposedly.

  2. Hard to measure what didn’t happen
    The blue lights also deter crime by their presence. Statistics of the number of calls placed does not fully value their existence. Smartphone or not, not everyone in the area will have the app installed when needed. They are pretty bright, however.

  3. Emergency Lights

    There was an incident at a college in Las Vegas, I believe, where a student's life was saved after he was stabbed in the chest. He was able to crawl to the emergency light. I believe one life saved is worth putting up with any annoyance. .    

  4. Blinded by the light

    What a shortsighted perspective from student government. For one, most of the crimes around campus involve students getting robbed of their phones. Pretty tough to alert campus police to prowlers once your iPhone6 with its nifty app is sprinting down the block. Oh…but the app is to be used *before* the robbery. Hm, I think folks are vastly overestimating their ability to click around on a smartphone when confronted by thieves. I wouldn't want to be flashing my phone around in such an instance anyway. Best to keep the blue lights and just add a layer.   

  5.  Add a few downtown


    I don't want to take away from anyone's thought process on the subject but most robbery victims are having their phones taken now because of the value, so how would they call the police for help. Forget the app and put up more blue light stations with cameras. Start by adding a few downtown. Maybe that will also discourage the aggressive panhandlers from ruining the atmosphere of going out for a nice dinner or beverage in Evanston. Think forward not in reverse. 


    1. Crime Location
      The police probably don’t have the numbers in this form, but it would be interesting to know the crime location profile before and after the Blue Lights were installed, and for the same types of crimes a couple of blocks away. Also for where cameras are.
      An assumption is criminals see the Blue Lights or cameras and change their location somewhat away from them. But that probably gives the criminals too much credit for intelligence.
      More cell phones will be equipped with remote shut-off but criminals motive will still be to make sure the victim can’t call the police.
      With the number of NU, ETHS students and even adults who have their faces in their electronic devises and don’t even see people/bikes/cars feet from them, robbery and assault will continue—they are sitting ducks.

  6. No evidence that they work

    The question we should be considering is whether blue lights phones are more effective than other crime prevention measures of equal cost. There is no evidence that blue light phones reduce crime:empirical studies show that they have no effect. On the the other hand the cost of installing them is substantial, both monetarily and to the people who live in their neighborhoods.  we also know that many measures, such as increased security patrols, do reduce crime. Rather than spending our limited crime-control resources on a measure that is purely cosmetic, we should be spending it on measures that actually work. Blue light phones are a waste of resources and create and unneeded nuisance for residential neighborhoods.

  7. Who pays for the blue lights?

    Does NU pay for these and maintain them – since they are the ones that want them?

    I would like to know more about costs and the maintenance of the system, the nonsense about if one crime is prevented is not cost justified.  At one point it was taking the Evanston police department over one year to have  rape kits processed.

    Because NU wants something we taxpayer should not foot the bill.

    1. Who pays for the blue lights?

      NU paid for installation. City agreed to pay ALL maintenance and upkeep of the lights that are installed now.

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