Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Dispatchers Save Lives Through Safe2Tell Program

CSP Dispatcher Jessica Catalano reviews
reports in the Safe2Tell system.
On December 4, quick work by a Colorado State Patrol dispatcher helped save the life of a teenager who had attempted to commit suicide. Two days later, another CSP dispatcher helped mobilize local law enforcement to arrest a youth who was threatening his fellow students with a potential school shooting.

These are just two of the confirmed incidences of lives saved through Safe2Tell, a Colorado initiative that makes it easy for students, parents, school staff and community members to report concerns regarding their safety or the safety of others. People can make anonymous reports by phone, website or mobile app. Dispatchers in the Denver Communications Center receive and manage phone calls, while tips that come in through the web site or mobile app are handled by dispatchers in the Pueblo Communications Center. 

In November, CSP dispatchers handled nearly 800 reports -- an average of more than 26 per day! Over the course of the 2015-2016 school year, they received 5,821 reports, a 68% increase over the prior school year.

“There’s always something to do with each tip,” explained Stephanie Compton, a supervisor in the Pueblo Comms Center.

Two-thirds of tips come in via web or the app. In Pueblo, an audible alert sounds every time a new tip comes in so that dispatchers can act quickly. Whether the report comes in by phone or online, dispatchers must gather enough information to make the tip useful: What type of threat is it? What is the name of the youth involved? What school does s/he go to? Safe2Tell is set up to make it easy for users to report this information, but sometimes dispatchers have to work to gather enough information to act on a tip. They use an interactive tracking and processing software to log, share, annotate, track and audit each tip. Once the youth’s school is identified, the program can pop up a list of school staff and local law enforcement who should be notified of the threat or concern. Dispatchers forward the report to the appropriate staff and law enforcement.

 “There is an audit trail; the interface shows everyone who opened the report and saw it. But we always follow up with a phone call to law enforcement,” said Raymond Eccher, who oversees the initiative at the Pueblo Comms Center.

Those phone calls can mean the difference between life and death; just ask Jessica Catalano, the dispatcher whose call to law enforcement got them to respond to the home of a teen who had attempted suicide on Dec. 4. They were able to call for medical help and the teen survived.

Comms Supervisor Robert Sanchez recalls a case where the tenacity of dispatcher Sandi Youngs stopped a suicide in progress. Sandi received a communication from the mobile app from a young person considering suicide. Initially the young person wouldn’t divulge a name, school or location, but Sandi chatted with the teen, established trust, and eventually was able to get a first and last name and school. But her work didn’t stop there: the child no longer went to the school named, so a collaboration of school administrators, law enforcement and Sandi worked together to identify the child’s current school, get a hold of someone who could provide a current home address, and send police to the home. They arrived just in time, finding the teen alive but in the midst of a suicide attempt.

“Had she not been able to put the pieces together one by one with the help of local schools and law enforcement...I don’t know what the result would have been otherwise,” Sanchez said.

Suicide threats are the No. 1 report received by Safe2Tell, followed by bullying and drug use. Dispatchers received nearly 1,000 reports of suicide threats during the 2015-2016 school year. The program was originally launched to help prevent school attacks, and it has proven effective in numerous instances -- in fact, the program even helped stop a planned shooting in Vancouver, British Columbia. Local dispatchers have received tips from places like Kentucky and Arkansas, as well (currently, no other state has a system like this except for Wyoming, which just recently launched a small program modeled on Safe2Tell).

“It’s immensely gratifying to be able to save a life,” Comms Supervisor Compton said. She added that the benefit of the program goes beyond the immediate prevention of threats; part of the success of the program is the connection it provides between young people and real people who care and are listening. Whether the child is being bullied or considering hurting himself or others, an effective response to a tip could be enough to prevent future tragedies from occurring. “We can see how much pain these kids are in,” Compton said.

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