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Strategy: School Crime Reporting Hotline

Strategy Anonymous hotlines or similar services allow students to report incidents of crime, weapons, or drug violations in schools, . . .


Anonymous hotlines or similar services allow students to report incidents of crime, weapons, or drug violations in schools, thus reducing fear of retribution and preventing additional incidents.

Crime Problem Addressed

Forty percent of 700 cities responding to a 1994 survey by the National League of Cities reported that school violence had increased significantly over the past five years. One of every four communities surveyed reported incidents resulting in serious injuries or death in the previous year. Hotlines can be used to address any crime, disorder, or disruptive behavior. They are particularly effective in encouraging students to report incidents that threaten the security of other students and school faculty. The reputation of the reporting system as truly anonymous greatly enhances the likelihood that it will be used frequently.

Key Components

School administrators develop the reporting system in cooperation with the local law enforcement agency, school board, state education department, or area crime watch group. The program is sometimes a supplement to a school crime watch or community crime reporting program. In many schools, the program is operated from an office within the school and is staffed by security, law enforcement, or school personnel. Callers anonymously report the presence of weapons or drugs, crimes they have witnessed, or pending fights among students. Donations and some school funds are used to support rewards for reports. Rewards typically are between $25 and $100, depending on the resources available to the program and the information given in the report.

Key partnerships

For the program to work well, the school must distribute information on the program to students and staff and ensure that the program is viewed as part of a broad-based effort to promote a crime- and drug-free school. Students, local businesses, and community groups can be recruited to design, fund, and help distribute educational materials about crime and violence and drug abuse prevention and to build awareness and acceptance of the anonymous reporting system. Neighborhood crime watch and reporting groups can build support for the programs by building relationships with school principals and helping them to understand the role of anonymous reporting systems in creating a safe school environment.

Potential Obstacles

The expense of establishing the reporting system can present a challenge for some school systems. Reporting systems need at least one phone line, or more if the school is large or the system is heavily used. Training for school or law enforcement personnel who staff the system and refer calls about serious incidents to the police is an additional required expense. Some school reporting systems are connected to the area 911 service, creating a potential impact on that system. Partnerships among school officials, law enforcement agencies, and administrators of the 911 system can help address such impacts.

Signs of Success

The National School Safety Center (NSSC), in its publication, "School Crisis Prevention and Response," recommends that school districts pursue an array of crime- and violence-prevention strategies, including incentives or encouragements for students to report suspicious and criminal activity. The NSSC states that such programs are an important part of a comprehensive school-based violence prevention strategy. The 1993 Southeastern Regional Vision for Education report, "Reducing School Violence: Hot Topics and Usable Research," recommends a school crime reporting system as a means of protecting students and staff and "enlisting support for preventing violence."

Applying the Strategy

Elementary, middle, and high schools in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, use posters describing the program to promote participation of their successful school-based crime, drug, and weapon reporting system; this practice has helped to reduce gun- and drug-related incidents involving students.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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