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Lancaster PA: Students can now text concerns to school resource officers aka Police

Dear Readers,  As one with a degree in Criminal Justice, it is easy for me to see the direction our schools are taking.  Now, let's teach our children to report to armed police officers! There has always been an avenue for reporting problems in all schools--guidance counselors, trusted teachers, parents, etc. Remember Hitler's Youth Brigade? Schools & Prisons--not much difference -- The US schools with their own police & 18 Signs That Life In U.S. Public Schools Is Now Essentially Equivalent To Life In U.S. Prisons . Children cannot develop properly in a prison-like environment and I have reams of information to support this statement. God save our children, Blessings, Dona Witmer

By BRIAN WALLACE  Staff Writer http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/568047_Students-can-now-text-concerns-to-school-resource-officers.html  

Rick Farnsler has roamed the halls of Elizabethtown Area High School as its resource officer since 2007, and he's never received a tip from a student via a telephone hotline or a tip box located in the school.

But in the four months since Elizabethtown implemented a system enabling students to submit tips via cellphone text messages, Farnsler has gotten more than 60 anonymous messages about drugs, vandalism, bullying and other concerns.

At least three of the tips came from students worried about their peers expressing suicidal intentions, said Farnsler, a uniformed borough police officer.

By conversing back and forth with the tipsters, Farnsler was able to obtain the names of the troubled students and notify the school's guidance counselors, who intervened.

"That's what it's all about," Farnsler said of the Text-A-Tip program. "If it means we possibly saved a student from harming themselves, right there it's worth the money, as far as I'm concerned."

Elizabethtown is believed to be the first public school in Lancaster County to implement the system, which was funded with a $1,600 donation from Elizabethtown Rotary Club.

Now, several other schools may be following suit.

School District of Lancaster plans to pilot a similar text tip program next month at all its schools through Lancaster City-County Crime Stoppers, which is offering subscriptions to other schools as well.

Implementing the service at schools is a no-brainer, said Sgt. Timothy Frey, who supervises the seven city police officers who work as school resource officers for SDL.

"Kids do not pick up the phone and call. They text," he said. "It's technology kids embrace, it's what they're doing, so we can't ignore it. We need to use it."

Crime Stoppers last month implemented a countywide text tip system provided by a Minnesota company called TIP411 that charges $2,800 for a two-year subscription.

Callers punch 847411 (TIP411) into their cellphone's text message "TO" box, then type "LANCS" at the start of the message, followed by a space and their tip.

County dispatchers and police officers monitor the system and respond according to the type of tips they receive.

Crime Stoppers is offering the system to schools because its subscription allows for four additional entities to use the service.

In the case of School District of Lancaster, the system will work exactly same way as the county TIP411, but with the identifier "SDOL" at the start of a text message.

Staff members in SDL's school and community safety office will monitor the system, along with the district's SROs. On weekends, SROs and administrators will keep tabs on tips, which may be submitted by anyone in the community, not just students.

Crime Stoppers is charging the school district $500 to "piggyback" on its subscription for two years.

One of the best features of TIP411, Frey said, is that it enables law-enforcement officials to continue conversing with tipsters long after their initial tip comes in. That doesn't happen with anonymous phone calls.

If a text tipster wants to end the conversation, he or she merely texts the word "stop," and the conversation permanently ceases - unless the tipster initiates it again.

To assure that tipsters remain anonymous, text messages are routed to a server in Canada, where telephone numbers and other identifying information are "scrubbed" from the text message, which is assigned a random ID number.

Canada has stronger laws on maintaining anonymity than does the United States.

District officials expect many tips to come in after school hours, but students also are likely to pass along information during the school day.

While SDL students are not supposed to bring their cellphones to class, many of them do, and Frey expects them to be texting tips to SROs.

"You've got kids sitting in a classroom, and kids talk," Frey said. "There's a lot of information going around the school during the day.

"Imagine if Columbine had a text tip program way back then," he said, referring to the 1999 massacre at a high school in Colorado. "We could name multiple schools where this would have helped."

When Elizabethtown implemented its system, some students purposely submitted bogus information, Farnsler said, but the number of prank texts has been relatively small.

And the useful tips he's handled have helped the school respond to student bullying, vandalism and drug use.

The system has been successful, he said, because it provides a secure, anonymous means of communication that students are actually using.

"Those 60 tips I've gotten this year are 60 more than I got in the previous four years."

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