WILLOWICK, Ohio – The Willowick Police Department is planning to begin using a new cell phone app for students to report possible threats and other problems by text message.
After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, police started exploring ways to encourage young people to share their concerns with law enforcement.
Since most students have cell phones, Sgt. Bruce LaForge turned to an app developer to open the lines of communication with students at Willowick Middle School.
“Anything that's indicative that somebody might be prone to commit a violent act,” Willowick Police Chief Brian Turner said.
Turner said students who choose to can use the STOP (Students Text Officer Protect) app on their phones to send tips to a phone in the police dispatch center.
He said the app is not a replacement for 911, which should still be used for urgent matters.
“This is a tip line. You saw this, you heard this, let us know. You don't have to come up to the station, you don't have to call and talk to anybody,” Turner said. “We're really trying to make it as user friendly for the kids as we can.”
The program costs $1,000 for a lifetime plan, but it’s being covered by a donation from a resident whose son committed suicide, according to Willowick Mayor Richard Regovich. Any additional donations will be used for other associated costs or to expand the program.
“To be proactive I think was the key here,” Regovich said.
The program is expected to be rolled out at Willowick Middle School at the start of the next school year, in August.
Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools Superintendent Steve Thompson said it could be expanded to other schools within the multi-city district if it’s successful.
“It's just a great way for kids to be able to communicate in the avenue that they're comfortable with," Thompson said. “It just gives us one more tool in the tool bag.”
While the program has a certain level of anonymity, police will have access to the phone numbers of tipsters, according to Turner. He said any misuse of the system will be tracked and addressed.