The Suffolk County Police Department launched an anonymous mobile texting service Friday that school staff and students can use if they believe trouble is brewing on campus.
Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the Text-A-Tip line will be monitored 24/7 and is "a proactive measure" for decreasing school shootings. She said the goal is for police to be notified about threats long before a school is under attack.
National research shows that some school shootings could have been prevented if someone had spoken up days before, Hart said. Providing a text service gives students in particular a more comfortable way to alert authorities, she said.
"More than 90 percent of the time, somebody was aware that someone was planning a school shooting, but they were afraid to report it," Hart said. "Teenagers are reluctant to call 911."
Police encourage students or school staff to text 888777. In the text message, they should include the phrase "Tip Suffolk," the name of their school, and details about the potential threat, Hart said. The message will be sent to the police department's 911 center.
Hart said police will keep the text line open during semester and summer breaks. She said police will prosecute anyone who purposely sends false information to the text line as a way to prevent people from abusing the service.
"We take these threats very seriously," she said.
Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of the Elwood Union Free School District and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said the text line is another tool districts can use to keep students and staff safe.
"One of the things we've been emphasizing this year is 'See Something, Say Something'," Bossert said. "But for whatever reason, some folks are hesistant to do that, so this gives them another resource to easily and anonymously report, if that's their preference."
Hart said the text line is one of four ways her department is focusing on school safety.
She said the police department has increased training for school resource officers and assigned more officers to the Homeland Security staff with an emphasis on school shooting. In August, police officials announced that more officers will patrol Suffolk schools as part of a push for improved safety and reduced response time to active-shooter incidents.
With more officers on campus, police will be hanging posters around school buildings that mention the text line. Hart said she hopes students will notice the posters.
"We've got to meet them (students) where they are," she said. "The more the word gets out, the better for us."