Some emergency phones on community college campuses broken for nearly a decade

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- Oakland community college students are calling for fixes because most of the blue emergency phones on campus are busted or out of service, despite the Peralta College District's recent work getting some of them fully functional again.

Administrators have publicly acknowledged since 2015 that the phone system fell into disrepair a decade ago. In November 2018, $2 million was approved to repair and replace the nearly two dozen phones at Laney and Merritt colleges. Still, 2 Investigates found many of the emergency poles are still covered in cardboard or with ‘out of order' signs and lights failing to illuminate at night.

"You wouldn't know it's there," Merritt College student Quianna Summerhill said. "If we don't have what we need just in case of an emergency then what are we to do?"

Students said Merritt College, located in the Oakland hills, has spotty cellular phone service and without a life-line, it makes some of them uneasy, especially late at night.

"It would be very easy, especially being a woman, to be taken advantage of in this lot," student Margie Raetz-Bailey said. "I would probably just be screaming if something happened."

What still hasn't happened in years is a permanent fix for the phones. Numerous proposals, studies and bids have been done but it wasn't until recently that the district pushed forward with a plan to get the phones up and running. The deadline is set for the end of April for Merritt College.

Right now, three of the nine phones at Merritt College are back in service, according to the district, with the blue lights illuminated and a button that when pushed will connect a person directly with campus police.

When 2 Investigates visited Laney College, not only were emergency phones still out of order but so were elevators, a bathroom and a couple of fire extinguishers were found missing. Laney student Saskia Hatvany is editor of the campus newspaper, Laney Tower, and has covered the dilapidated phone system extensively. She said the repairs started in 2015.

"I have no doubt that there are plenty of members of the district who have good intentions," she said. "But it made me realize that intentions don't always get the job done and that was disappointing to me."

Just this week, Perlata College District publically claimed all 14 phones on the Laney College campus and in the nearby district parking lots were working, complete with new audio and video capabilities.

While the district wouldn't comment on camera, a spokesperson said repair delays had to do with funding and constant staffing changes. Among the issues discussed, were debates over where the phones should be located.

"There are a few things that could have been prevented with great foresight," Hatvany said.

Police said the phones have only been used a handful of times, however, statistics reviewed by 2 Investigates show crimes like theft, burglary, robbery and assault have happened.

With the emergency poles lit up at night, it can be a deterrent for crime and for many students it gives them piece of mind.

The district is pushing its new smartphone app called ‘Campus Shield' where emergency calls can be placed over campus wifi, anonymous tips can be submitted and students and staff can be connected to campus resources.