Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bullies Get The Message In Collier County: DNTH8

The best way to stop bullying is to tell someone it’s happening.

That’s why the Collier County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with Collier County Public Schools and Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers to provide the community with a text-messaging line to report bullying and remain anonymous.

According to the Pew Internet Research Center, 33 percent of teenagers who own a cell phone text more than 100 messages per day, and 11 percent send more than 200 texts per day.

“We recognize that texting is a method of communication that young people are comfortable with,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “This tool allows us to communicate with them on a platform with which they identify.”

Using the keyword DNTH8 (don’t hate), anyone wishing to report bullying can text a tip to 274637 (c-r-i-m-e-s). The software provider, TipSoft, encrypts text message and routes it through several secure servers, protecting the tipster’s identity. The tip will come in through Crime Stoppers, whose hotline is monitored around the clock, and then be sent immediately to CCSO. Once CCSO receives the tip it will be evaluated to determine the most appropriate course of action. Potential actions include everything from contacting the alleged bully and victim and their respective parents, to informing the school guidance counselor, principal and Youth Relations deputy if the alleged bullying is taking place at school.

CCPS Superintendent Dr. Kamela Patton said, “We know how important it is for a responsible adult to be made aware of instances of bullying. By providing this new bullying reporting system, we are meeting students in the digital world in which they live. We would hope that by using this 21st century technology as yet another tool, we will be able to continue to maintain our schools as the safe havens they are today.”

The system also allows a deputy to respond by text message to the originating cell phone without ever knowing the identity of the person who left the tip. The user’s information is always assigned an alias and a unique ID before being sent. This secure application allows the tipster and the investigator to have two-way dialog while keeping the user’s identity anonymous.

The service is not for acts of bullying in progress, which should be reported by calling 911 or CCSO’s non-emergency line 239.252.9300, depending on the seriousness of the act.

CCSO paid the cost of adding the DNTH8 keyword to the existing TipSoft account of Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers. This approach saves tax dollars because it is less expensive than creating a new account. In addition, it means that DNTH8 is available to law enforcement agencies throughout the Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers service area of Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties as a tool to address bullying.

“Teens who are being bullied may be hesitant to tell a trusted adult, or even a friend, that they’re being antagonized,” said Crime Stoppers Coordinator Trish Routte. “Our goal is to provide a safe and secure outlet for students to share that information so that law enforcement can intervene and protect them – all while keeping their identity anonymous.”

DNTH8 is the latest addition to the many bullying prevention measures already in place through CCSO, CCPS and Crime Stoppers. Youth Relations Bureau deputies are assigned to all CCPS schools, serving as a law enforcement presence to mentor students and deter crime, including bullying. In addition, teachers and deputies undergo training to recognize and address instances of bullying. CCSO also provides the school district with an array of safety videos to play during morning announcements. Several of these videos are on the topic of bullying. Deputies also make sure students are aware that they can report crime anonymously and be eligible for an award by calling the Student Crime Stoppers phone number, 1-800-780-8477.