More students are making more calls to a statewide anonymous hotline to report concerns about their safety or the safety of others, a trend that educators regard as positive.
“Kids are feeling more confident about reporting,” said Kathy Morris, coordinator of security and safety for Durango School District 9-R.
Durango School District 9-R students reported more than 200 tips to Safe2Tell Colorado over the last nine years. Seventy-six of those tips were reported in 2016-17.
“We are seeing an increase in calls related to suicide, drugs and depression,” Morris said. “This a good thing because we are trying to get kids to talk. When we rolled this program out, we talked to students about finding a trusting adult to talk to. If they don’t have one in their life or can’t get to them, they can call Safe2Tell.”
Safe2Tell was founded on the belief that prevention and early intervention are the keys to preventing violence and saving lives. Tips reported to Safe2Tell include, but are not limited to, bullying, suicide threats, child abuse and drug/alcohol use.
The hotline has “undoubtedly saved lives,” Morris said.
Morris said it is not uncommon for students from other schools or districts to report something they see on social media, even if it does not directly affect them.
“When you think about kids seeing threats on social media, it could be a student in another state or region,” she said.
Safe2Tell is a toll-free hotline for students, teachers and others to report violent or troubling events. The goal is to break the “code of silence” by giving students an anonymous way to report threatening behavior.
The program was developed in response to the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999. The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and one teacher and wounded many others.
The U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education launched a collaborative effort, known as the Safe School Initiative, to examine 37 incidents of school shootings and attacks that occurred in the United States between 1974 and 2000.
The Safe School Initiative looked at the thinking, planning and other behaviors of students who carried out school attacks. Particular focus was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communication that might help prevent future attacks.
The study found that before most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s plan. In the majority of cases, those who knew were other students, and that information rarely made its way to an adult.
“There was somewhere around 79 percent of the Columbine High School campus that knew those boys were going to do something, and they didn’t report it because they thought they would be identified as a target or a snitch,” Morris said.
She said Safe2Tell encrypts all information, allowing the user to be completely anonymous.
“We cannot go back and trace a phone call or internet report without a court order,” Morris said.
Suicide threats are the most common types of tips Safe2Tell receives from District 9-R. Those numbers are on par with trends across the state.
The district received 85 reports of suicide threats since adopting the Safe2Tell program in 2008. Thirty-one of those suicide threat tips were made during the 2016-17 school year.
Safe2Tell has received more than 30,000 reports statewide since its inception in 2004. Data show the hotline received 9,163 calls in 2016-17, a 58 percent increase from the previous year.
Suicide threats accounted for more than 1,700 tips in 2016-17. Bullying and drug use were the second highest reports, with 1,125 and 924 tips, respectively.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said actively promoting Safe2Tell in schools likely contributes to the increase in reports filed.
“As we continue to promote Safe2Tell in schools, we see an increase,” she said. “I also think some of this is organic. We have more kids in need now than ever before, and they are reaching out to get help.”
Coffman said calls related to suicide have increased statewide in recent years.
“For many years, bullying was at the top of that list, and about a year and a half ago, we saw suicide take a leap,” she said. “Most are bystander calls worried about their friends, but some are suicidal students calling directly, and we get them connected with a suicide crises line immediately.”
It’s the same for District 9-R.
How does it work?All Durango 9-R students have the Safe2Tell logo and number on the back of their student IDs. A student can file an anonymous report with Safe2Tell via phone, text message or internet. Calls to Safe2Tell are answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week by trained Colorado State Patrol dispatchers.
Filing reports with Safe2Tell electronically gives users the option to upload photos and social media posts, which help law enforcement with their investigations.
The dispatcher collects information for the report and assigns a tip number to the reporting party. Every tip is investigated and given to the appropriate school and/or law enforcement agency.
Tips about La Plata County schools are forwarded to the Durango-La Plata Emergency Communications Center in Bodo Industrial Park.
“We are a safety net to ensure help gets to the right person in the right amount of time,” said Susanne Meyers, operations supervisor for the 911 center.
Meyers said the 911 center has received 140 Safe2Tell tips so far this year.
“These tips are widespread from all the different districts and grade levels,” she said. “It is a wonderful tool.”
Dispatchers at the 911 center determine the severity of the report and whether to involve an on-duty officer or school resource officer.
Morris said most reports filed with Safe2Tell happen after school hours.
“The schools have a safety team identified that receives the reports from state patrol,” she said. “If it is after hours, we work with law enforcement to get them to the student’s house for a welfare check if needed.”
Statewide data for 2016-17 shows the time of day with the highest number of reports is 4 p.m.
“Kids are on social media after school, and they realize someone has been depressed and made a concerning comment,” Morris said. “Someone will take action based off these reports.”