Colorado’s school safety line received 28% more tips in the 2018-2019 school year than in the previous year, for a record of 19,861 tips.
Suicide threats were the largest single category that Safe2Tell handled, comprising 16.4% of tips. Drug-related reports followed at 9.5%, with bullying slightly behind.
The 15-year-old Safe2Tell program allows students or anyone concerned about the well-being of students to anonymously report what they know. It is part of the state Attorney General’s Office, which released its annual report on Tuesday.
Seven analysts in the Department of Public Safety intake tips via telephone, a web form, and a mobile app.
Last week, the legislature’s School Safety Committee advanced legislation that would route calls to a crisis operator first to determine if suicide intervention is necessary.
“The main component of our bill is asking for Safe2Tell to revise the system for handling calls to have crisis counselors be the first stop so that we may have the opportunity to deploy mental health counselors to the scene in lieu of law enforcement when appropriate,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, one of the authors.
The largest percentage of tips, approximately 31%, came from the mobile app. Phone calls, while not the smallest category, constituted 23% of tips, compared to online reporting for the remainder.
Duplicate tips from multiple reporters increased 872% in the most recent school year, and do not count in the total of actionable tips. However, Safe2Tell concluded that “duplicate tips are an indicator of a healthy reporting culture within a community,” in which threats do not depend on the judgment of only one student.
Most of the duplicate reports indicated a potential attack on a school. One of the explicit goals of the program is to break the “code of silence” — a finding from mass shootings that students knew about their peers’ dangerous behavior, but did not speak out.
The program offered eight recommendations to improve operations. One proposal is to allow for waiving anonymity of reporters in instances where law enforcement needs to know about imminent threats to life and public safety.
During the School Safety Committee meeting, Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, withdrew a proposal that would have allowed for identities to be revealed in some instances, including when the hotline is used to commit a crime.
“Given our five bill limit in the context of the interim committee, I look forward to continuing this critically-important conversation on how best to strengthen Safe2Tell by introducing this proposal as a stand-alone bill during the legislative session in January,” Gonzales said.
Other recommendations included that school districts designate a Safe2Tell coordinator to oversee quality control of tip response and be a liaison between law enforcement and the state program.
The report also found that “many law enforcement agencies have chosen not to enroll in Safe2Tell’s digital platform and still receive tips by fax,” and suggested that agencies opt in to digital report taking.
Lawrence Pacheco, communications director for the Attorney General’s Office, explained that Safe2Tell transmits information to schools and law enforcement through faxes, phone calls, or digitally.
“It doesn’t slow down response, but faxes usually do not contain any sort of attachments that the tipster may have sent — screenshots, photos, etc. But we work with law enforcement to get them that info as needed,” he said.