It is the boldest tactic in a campaign that began with improving lighting, moving phones away from problem areas, then disabling phones so they cannot receive incoming calls. About a quarter of Nynex's 8,400 street phones do not take incoming calls. Now the company is taking rotary pay phones, which are no longer made in the United States, out of storage.
"The rotary dial is a step backward technologically, but it prevents a drug dealer from paging a customer or runner," said Steven Marcus, a Nynex spokesman, who said the change was made as "an absolute last resort," since the phones cannot take advantage of many new services, like voice mail, that rely on push-button phones.
Phone company officials acknowledge that the rotary-phone tactic is not foolproof: callers can use a device called a tone dialer, which is sold for about $15 at electronics stores, to send tone signals over a phone with a rotary dial. But they say the devices do not appear to have caught on. [...]
"Sleazeballs congregated there, and they're not the kind of people you want hanging out on your corner," said Jay Devlin, an actor and a writer who, as president of the 45th Street Block Association, led the fight to persuade Nynex to bring rotary phones back to his corner in the Times Square district several months ago.
Rotary Pay Phones Return, This Time to Foil Drug Deals