Laken Riley murder exposed glaring security lapses on college campuses, need for emergency blue lights
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University of Georgia students are demanding more on-campus safety features, such as blue light emergency phones, which the school said it would prioritize following the Feb. 22 murder of Augusta University nursing student Laken Riley.

UGA Police Chief Jeffrey Clark described the attack against Riley as a “crime of opportunity” while announcing the Feb. 23 arrest of Jose Ibarra, a 26-year-old illegal immigrant from Venezuela accused of killing Riley, 22, while she was out for a jog along dirt trails on UGA’s campus.

“As a female student at the University of Georgia, I am deeply heartbroken and alarmed by the recent murder that occurred on our campus,” an unnamed UGA student wrote in the description of a petition, “Install Emergency Blue Lights on University of Georgia’s Campus.”

“These lights can instantly contact the police and make them aware of a dangerous situation. They can also deter crimes,” the student-led petition says. “According to the National Institute of Justice, improved street lighting led to a crime reduction in about half of the areas studied (Farrington & Welsh, 2002). By implementing enhanced lighting systems across campus and installing blue lights for emergency calls, we can significantly improve safety conditions for all students.”

UGA on Tuesday announced new security measures totaling more than $7.3 million to make its campus safer, including “the installation of combined security camera-blue light call box systems in strategic locations across campus,” the university said.

The phones, he said, are typically installed in strategic areas, including dark areas on a school or hospital campus or in parking lots and pedestrian walkways. They are typically small towers that have lights on top of them and phones accessible for anyone’s use, but they can also be installed on the side of buildings or on existing light posts. Some even have cameras that start recording when a call is made.

The blue lights require an immediate connection to some kind of 24/7 responder staffing, whether that be a college public safety department or a local police department. Calls made from specific phones can alert a responder to the location of a caller, Verden explained.

A general view of the area where Laken Riley’s body was found near Lake Herrick on the University of Georgia’s campus in Athens, Georgia

The area where Laken Riley’s body was found near Lake Herrick on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., Feb. 24, 2024.  (Mark Sims for Fox News Digital)

“I think they’re effective,” Verden said. “They are a communications channel, and that, to me, is important. They’re also what you would call a visual deterrent. These bad guys aren’t stupid. A bad guy sees a phone … brightly lit, blue light on top, a phone attached to it — they’re going to think twice. They’re going to think twice about committing a crime where the phone is located.”

But the security consultant also noted that blue lights involve a lot of moving parts and manpower.

“I think the emergency phones are critically important to the safety and security of campuses.”

— Michael Verden, CEO of The Lake Forest Group

“I think the emergency phones are critically important to the safety and security of campuses. … But that, by itself, is not enough. Just having an emergency phone is not enough. It has to be a layered approach to security. Are there people available to answer the call? Are there people available to respond to the call?” Verden said, adding that, in some big cities, people calling 911 may be placed on hold.

Laken Riley smiles for a photo while running

Laken Riley smiles for a photo while running. Riley, a nursing student in Georgia, was found dead near a lake on campus Feb. 22, 2024. (Laken Riley/Instagram)

A community member named Marlene Clark expressed similar concerns about safety measures on UGA’s campus in an email to UGA President Jere Morehead with Fox News Digital copied.

“Why are there no police patrolling the campus on foot, on horseback or on trolleys? Why are there not secure transportation/escorts to move students from classrooms to parking lots, especially during testing when exams are scheduled at NIGHTS?” Clark wrote. 

“Why are so many of the streets so dark? THIS IS A COLLEGE TOWN! Why are there so many unattended empty lots and vacant buildings on or close to campus? My daughter’s parking requires her to walk past a run down garage with questionable activities.

“Those who knew Laken are suffering and scared, the parents of children who had to go back today are suffering along with them and scared.”

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