Monday, July 19, 1999

Parking structure gets ‘safety’ phones

Parking structure gets ‘safety’ phones
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea

Melisa Medina has wondered whether she’s safe when walking through Ann Arbor’s parking garages at night.

“(I sometimes feel) like I have to run to my car,” said Medina of Saline.

City police say crime is not prevalent in the city’s parking structures, but the nature of the buildings can create the perception that people need to be wary in them.

In the past few weeks, bright yellow “safety phones” have been added to several of the city’s parking structures. Officials say the phones can be used by people who must immediately contact police or medical help.

The effort stems from work by the Downtown Development Authority, the city and the Ann Arbor Mayoral Taskforce on Increasing Safety for Women.

“It is something that we wanted to do for a long time,” said Deputy Chief Craig Roderick of the Ann Arbor Police Department.

There are eight “safety phones,” each illuminated by a blue light, at the parking areas on South Fourth Avenue and William Street. Ann and Ashley streets, South First and West Washington streets and West Liberty Street.

And there are 29 phones installed by the DDA at elevator doors and each floor of the Fourth Avenue and the Liberty Street parking structures.

The phones have a button that, when pressed, immediately connects the individual with the 911 dispatcher. Modeled on the University of Michigan safety phone program, the dispatcher also can immediately determine the location of the call.

Lt. Greg Bazick, said police have not received emergency calls on the phones yet, though there have been a couple of pranks.

However, the police said the perception of increased safety is a benefit of the phones.

Kent Baumkel of the mayor’s safety task force said the group spent two years developing the safety phone project.

The DDA and the police department began preliminary discussions in early 1998 on how to implement some new ways to make Ann Arbor residents feel they could have immediate police help, officials said.

“Even if you’re not a victim of crime,” said Susan Pollay, executive director of DDA, “it gives the bad folks the message that this is not the place to get into mischief. It gives the good folks a feeling of comfort.”

Funds for city phones were generated from increased parking meter rates that took effect last year, Roderick said. The total for the city’s part of the project was $17,800.

The task force allocated $25,000 for the safety phones in the 1998-1999 fiscal year, and hopes to expand the project next year. And the DDA has allocated $55,000 through December for the phones.

Representatives for both agencies indicated they plan on installing several more phones in the Maynard Street structures this fall.

They also said that phones will be installed in the next two weeks in the parking area next to the main branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.

Photo Caption: The city of Ann Arbor, with the Downtown Development Authority, installed ‘safety phones’ in several parking structures such as this one at the Fourth Avenue and William Street structure.

Photo Credit: Larry E. Wright

Originally published Saturday, July 19, 1999