To Prevent Suicides And School Shootings, More States Embrace Anonymous Tip Lines
Staff Writer at Stateline
Last school year, more than 9,000 tips were submitted statewide.
Camille Aponte walks with her son, Nelson Laboy, as he heads into school at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time after a former student opened fire at the Parkland, Florida school. In the wake of the shooting some state lawmakers are considering establishing anonymous tip lines
After a teenage gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month, schools across the country were hit by a wave of copycat threats.
In Colorado, at least two high school students were arrested based on information sent to the state anonymous tip line and mobile app, known as Safe2Tell. “They had a list, they had weapons, they knew exactly what they wanted to do,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, whose office administers the program.
States across the country are responding to high-profile school shootings and rising teen suicide rates by creating tip lines modeled on Colorado’s. The programs aim to prevent young people from behaving dangerously, whether that means bullying, using drugs or killing someone.
Coffman said that Safe2Tell has saved lives in Colorado, and that such a system could have prevented the Parkland shooting. Nikolas Cruz, the expelled student who has admitted to shooting his former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, had a long record of disturbing behavior but it didn’t provoke a sufficient response from local authorities. A tipster’s warning to an FBI hotline was never communicated to local law enforcement.
Tips that are sent to Safe2Tell, in contrast, are required to be passed on to school districts and often police departments, and local officials are required to investigate. That might mean setting up a meeting between a student and a school counselor, or it might mean sending a police car straight to a student’s home.
“Something like Safe2Tell would have led to an intervention,” Coffman said of the shooting in Florida. “I feel very confident saying that.”
Tip lines, which are relatively inexpensive and don’t affect gun control laws, are one of the few policy responses to mass shootings that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.
Colorado launched Safe2Tell after Columbine in 1999. Since 2014, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming have launched similar programs, prompted in part by the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
In the wake of the Parkland massacre, the Colorado Safe2Tell office has fielded calls from the Trump administration and interested state and local officials nationwide. “We’re getting calls from all over the country now, it’s crazy,” said Susan Payne, the director of Safe2Tell.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office is working with its Florida counterpart to potentially set up a tip line there. In Arizona, a bill setting up a similar program is making its way through House and Senate committees. And this week the U.S. House passed legislation that would authorize grants for such programs along with other school safety initiatives.
“Solutions on the state level — including in my home state of Utah — can help show us the way forward,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said in a speech last month announcing the school safety legislation. Utah’s anonymous tip line has investigated 86 credible school attack threats since it launched in 2016, according to University of Utah Health, the health care system that manages the program.