With the start of a new year, UNC Charlotte’s Police Department is looking to equip students with additional security measures. During the Fall 2014 semester, Police Chief Jeffrey Baker, along with Lieutenant Brian Thomas began looking into a mobile application called LiveSafe.
“LiveSafe is a new safety technology that combines a campus safety app for students with a cloud-based Command Dashboard for safety officials. It facilitates discreet and risk-free bystander intervention by community members through information sharing with campus safety officials,” as stated on LiveSafe’s webpage.
The application offers a variety of features that can not only facilitate students in a time of distress, but also help UNCCPD to send out alerts in the case of a campus emergency.
Say a student is walking to their dorm late at night from a nearby parking garage. If that student feels like they are in danger, there is a one-touch button, which can connect that student directly to emergency dispatch.
“That has been a concern related to us from time to time. From students, staff and faculty, having to dial -2200 to get our emergency dispatch is kind of a problem, they just didn’t like it. Now, with this app, you have an emergency button, and you just hit it and it automatically goes to -2200. So there is no dialing with that. So we do have that one-button availability to contact emergency dispatch,” said Baker.
When the button is pushed, the police department can track the student through the GPS installed in their cell phone.
If the student is able to take a picture of the suspect, he or she can send it directly to the emergency dispatch center through the mobile application.
If the student finds a hiding place somewhere between the parking garage and their dorm, and is unable to make any loud noises, LiveSafe has a feature where the student in distress can communicate via text messages with emergency dispatch.
Even if a student doesn’t happen to be in the presence of imminent danger, but simply doesn’t feel safe walking somewhere alone, LiveSafe has something to facilitate them as well. SafeWalk is a feature offered by the application that, when turned on, allows their phone to trace the route they take so that if something does happen to them, police can trace their steps.
In addition to these features, the application works through push button notifications. This means that if there was an incident on campus and the police department needed a quick way to alert students (whereas the general email notifications may not be fast enough), they can send information via push notifications.
Talk of implementing the application for students at UNC Charlotte has gone on for roughly a year, and one of the main areas of conflict keeping the university from partnering with the LiveSafe was the issue of funding. The application costs $3 per download on each student’s phone. UNC Charlotte, having a total enrollment of just over 27,000 students, would bring the total cost of LiveSafe to $81,000.
Acknowledging that students would likely not download the application if they had to pay for it out-of-pocket, Baker and Thomas went to Chancellor Philip Dubois to see if they could get funding from the university. After talking it over with Dubois, he gave great support for a potential contract with LiveSafe according to Baker.
“This is an initiative from the chancellor. He supported it and wanted to see this implemented. It’s one of his many safety initiatives,” said Baker.
Currently, the department is in a contractual stage with LiveSafe. Funding for the application was approved at the end of the Fall 2014 semester. The university’s Office of Legal Affairs is working through the details of the potential contract.
Baker hopes the application will be ready for students to download by the end of February 2015.
“We’re crossing our fingers. We’re hoping that’s (late February) when we can get this in place, or sooner, it just all depends. Maybe it’ll be the end of January – the sooner the better,” said Baker.
Since funding was approved, LiveSafe will be free for all undergraduate students. The department plans on encouraging students to download the mobile application through marketing it in a variety of ways. Baker said the department would market LiveSafe through tabling in the Student Union, attending classes in different colleges across campus, posts on Facebook and Twitter and releases through the campus public relations group.
“Any way that we can think to market this and to get students to sign up, we’re going to do it,” said Baker.
The chief hopes to accumulate a large number of downloads in June as the first SOAR sessions take place on campus to welcome freshman and transfer as well as their parents.
“In some ways we’re even going to be able to appeal to parents and say, ‘Look you know we have this available for your son or your daughter to download, and it’s a wonderful way that they can communicate with our emergency dispatcher,’” said Baker.
“We want to provide, as a university, as many modes of safety as we can…based on technology, we constantly have to upgrade and look to the future, what is best. Now what we see is that you can have a highly sophisticated application on your phone that will provide unlimited safety to students,” said Baker.