Commonwealth Journal

January 19, 2013

SPD unveils texting program targeting students

By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

Local police are reining in texting technology in their newest efforts to prevent violence in schools. 
Somerset Police Department’s new “See-Hear-Report” program officially goes into effect tomorrow (Monday, Jan. 21), and it’s set up to allow officers to receive important information — but with complete anonymity on the part of the texter. 
“They (texters) should not fear sending that information to us because we don’t know who sent it,” said Lt. Shannon Smith, with SPD.
Smith said through a press release that the program “allows a direct line to Somerset Police by way of text messaging and web tips. 
“Students are encouraged to submit tips about school violence, bullying, drugs, or other concerns that may affect school safety,” Smith continued in the press release. “Their texts and web tips will be confidential and anonymous.”
Smith said acting SPD Police Chief Major Doug Nelson first came across a similar Colorado program that targets bullying during an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.  
“Students may be apprehensive about divulging sensitive information to an officer face-to-face,” Nelson said in the press release. “Text messaging is a common communication method for them these days and we want to make it easy for them to pass information to us that could save lives.”
A significant number of high school students carry cell phones to school. SPD’s new program automatically allows those students access to an anonymous tip line through a tool that many young people use more than actual voice phone calls. 
Those students who don't have a cell phone can navigate to the police department's Facebook page or website to submit a tip. Those tips utilize an anonymous form as well. 
Smith said SPD is working through a Utah company that provides law enforcement with text and web tip solutions. 
“The tips go through different computer servers that strip away personal information and give the sender a unique identifying code as an alias name,” Smith said in the press release. “That alias and the tip is the only information the police officers receive. 
“Officers can reply to the message, but they will have no idea to whom they are conversing,” Smith continued. “Likewise, the alias would be the only name officers would know should a reward be offered for certain information.”
This newest program adds a technologically-savvy facet to SPD’s school violence prevention program, which includes regular active shooter training. SPD conducted an active shooter training program at a local school soon after the Newtown, Connecticut shootings — although the session had already been in the planning stages when the Dec. 14 incident occurred. 
"Students today are growing up in a digital age,” Nelson said in the press release. “Therefore, it's important for the law enforcement community and our police department to offer different ways to
interact with our youth.”
Smith said the program is targeted to young people, but he said anyone can use it to report a crime. He emphasized that as much detail should be included as possible, including location of the alleged crime.
To text a tip to officers, follow these three steps:  
1. Compose a new message to "CRIMES" (274637 on most phones) 
2. Include "SOMERSETPD" in the message, along with the tip information
3. Press SEND
The program will cost the police department about $2,000 yearly.  
“That is money well spent if this prevents something from going on in our schools,” Smith said. “ ... We wouldn’t be investing the time and effort and the money to launch this  if we didn’t think this wasn’t a route worth taking.”
“See-Hear-Report” will continue to be supplemented by SPD’s 24-Hour Crime Tip Line at (606) 676-TIPS.