In less than two months, a campaign to get teenagers to report crimes at their schools has resulted in tips about bullying and drug use and even may have saved a child's life.
Students Speaking Out, essentially Crime Stoppers geared toward junior high and high school students, has generated more than 15 tips since it was launched Oct. 1.
The most valuable tip came Oct. 30 when an Oakdale student called the 800 number to report that a friend had threatened to commit suicide in a school bathroom by taking prescription drugs.
The Crime Stoppers operator connected the caller with a 911 dispatcher and an ambulance was sent to the school. The student was treated medically and psychologically.
Crime Stoppers started targeting students two years ago under the name Campus Crime Stoppers. But teenagers responded negatively to the word "crime" because it made them feel as though they were tattling or snitching on their peers, said Crime Stoppers Executive Director Carla Castro.
In fact, over that time, Campus Crime Stoppers never reached the 15 tips that Students Speaking Out already has reached.
The new campaign partnered with school districts in Modesto, Ceres, Oakdale, Turlock and Newman to educate students about their option to speak out anonymously.
Castro said Ceres Unified School District has been one of the biggest promoters, sending home letters to parents, holding assemblies and posting contact information in weekly bulletins to promote the program.
Associate Superintendent Jay Simmonds said that since the campaign kickoff last month, an unintended but welcome consequence is that more students have been reporting issues directly to administrators. But Students Speaking Out is a good alternative for kids who fear retaliation for reporting a crime or violation of school policy.
Battle against bullying
Simmonds said an anonymous reporting system is also a natural bridge to anti-bullying education in the schools.
Castro said she has received tips about drug use that led to disciplinary action by Turlock schools against two students, and others are being investigated in Ceres, Modesto and Oakdale. Several tips about bullying have come in, too, and are under investigation.
On the Crime Stoppers Facebook page, one 12-year-old boy posted a Facebook conversation between him and a 14-year-old boy that started as a dispute over a skateboard. In it, the 14-year-old boy threatens to kill the 12-year-old and his family.
Police intervened and handled the situation.
The Facebook page is not intended for reporting problems, but Castro said it will be another good method to reach out to youths to keep them apprised of crime at or near their schools and how to avoid becoming victims. She plans to launch a page for Students Speaking Out next month.
Even more than the number of tips, Castro said affirmation of the need for Students Speaking Out has come from her conversations with its users.
One Downey High School student sent a message along with a tip about cigarettes and narcotics on campus. "Thank you for finally giving students a chance to bring justice to their schools," it read.
Students can call the Students Speaking Out hot line at 1-866-602-7463 toll-free 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can provide tips by texting "274637" and including TIP704 at the start of the message, or going to the Web site, www. stancrimetips.org, and clicking on "send a tip."
Tips reported to Students Speaking Out will be turned over to school officials and law enforcement for investigation. Students can receive rewards for information that leads to an arrest or disciplinary action by the school.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.