Sheriff’s Office Plans New School Safety App

With sharp focus being put on school safety, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is rolling out a new app that will allow students to anonymously submit information about suspicious or criminal activity directly to dispatchers. 

The Safe to Talk app is built on an alert platform developed by Anderson Software and already deployed statewide in Colorado, where the 1999 Columbine High School shooting altered the nation’s perceptions about school campus safety. Anderson had focused on community Crime Stoppers technology until recently getting more involved with law enforcement and homeland security applications.

Sheriff’s Mike Chapman, who learned of the app during a homeland security conference following theStoneman Douglas High School shooting last year in Florida, said the app is just one more tool to enhance school safety.

The Sheriff’s Office and school district administrators are still working through procedures for rolling out the new app, with the formal launch expected in the next few weeks.

The app allows students to report everything from bullying to gang activity to vandalism to concerns about potential violence. The reports go to the county’s emergency communications center, where dispatchers will decide the urgency and threat level of the information and whether to pass the information to school leaders or to initiate an emergency response or criminal investigation.

Chapman acknowledged the potential for misuse but said the program could prevent a tragedy. He noted that in most mass shooting case, someone had concerns about the suspect’s behavior before the incidents took place and said the app is one way to share them with authorities. “I hope they use it responsibly and provide valuable information,” he said.

         The new app follows efforts over the summer to boost security—building security vestibules at all 92 schools and hiring a former U.S. Secret Service officer to serve as director of safety and security. Chapman also advocates expanding the high school and middle school School Resource Office program to all Loudoun elementary schools.

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