Text-a-tip programs are gaining in popularity across the country as they allow citizens to quickly alert authorities of possible crimes or bad behavior anonymously — and that includes in secondary and higher education environments.
The programs can promote safety with a range of issues, from supporting a family friendly environment at University of Southern California football games to helping thwart a Columbine-style shooting at a Douglas County, Colo., high school, where an anonymous tip led authorities to a student's home where they found weapons and a "kill list."
Providence College in Rhode Island highlights the program’s value in promoting a high quality of life and giving students and staff a way to look out for the community as a whole. The college began promoting a program called TipNow in January 2010 as a way for students, faculty and even parents to help make the campus a pleasant place to live and learn.
Since then, Koren Kanadanian, the college’s emergency management director, said the campus’ public safety dispatchers have fielded anonymous tips from students complaining of noise, smelling marijuana or students climbing on roofs. Student resident advisers will also use it to report underage drinking.
Though the program didn’t do everything he wanted right out of the box, Kanadanian said it was easy to work with Resiligence, the company that maintains TipNow, to get it to make improvements. For example, when the college first implemented TipNow, tipsters were required to send their text message to an e-mail address. The college worked with the company and now students and staff can send tips to a local phone number. Also now when someone sends in a tip, they get an automatic reply instructing them to dial 911 or 2222, the campus emergency number, to report an emergency.
Kanadanian also asked the company to design the software’s management portion so dispatchers get a pop-up message on their computer screen whenever a tip comes in so a decision can be made on whether it will be acted on immediately or followed up on later.
It’s also integrated with the college’s computer-aided dispatch software to help with Clery Act reporting, which requires colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to track and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. “I can track what came in and the tip is connected with this particular case,” he said. “Then I know that if I need to report it to Clery, it will get reported because it will match up the two, and I know I’ll use it in our statistics at the end of the year that we need for reporting.”
Every text alert goes to a long list of people including Kanadanian, dispatch supervisors, the security director — even the deans of students and residence life — receive copies of text messages, some at 2 a.m. on a Friday night. “Everybody wants to get it, even on their days off,” Kanadanian said. “They’re on the system, and they all requested it after they found out about the system.”