Reaching the police officer at an Anne Arundel County school — there's an app for that.
A new app developed by an Anne Arundel school resource officer lets anyone with a smartphone unobtrusively tap in a message to the officers whose beats are the county's middle and high schools. The app is aimed at students but parents are encouraged to use it as well.
"It allows [students] to communicate with us in a medium they're familiar with," said Cpl. William Davis, its creator and the school resource officer at Old Mill High School in Millersville.
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He hadn't come across any identical apps in researching them.
Kevin Quinn, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said there are numerous commercial tip-line services and apps, which schools and the police who work in them can use.
"I've never heard of anybody creating one on their own. That's kind of cool," he said.
Lt. Doyle Batten Jr., the unit's commander, said after a student opened fire on another the first day of school at Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County, Anne Arundel Police Chief Larry W. Tolliver asked him what measures his unit was taking to increase school safety. Batten said he wanted to find ways to reach students in the cyberworld in which they communicate, and soon Davis suggested an app.
The Anne Arundel app, AACo PD Speak Out, allows police to capitalize on being a familiar face where they work and on having a rapport with many students.
The user taps on a resource officer's photo to send what will turn up as an email that will be sent to the officer. The officer then emails back. It's not geared for emergencies.
Students can already reach the resource officers, who are well known to students in the county high schools and nine middle schools, by dropping by their offices, calling and emailing. And schools and police have tip lines. But this affords them more privacy.
Police said they will protect the confidentiality of the sender as much as possible.
"If you weren't called to the office, you must be there snitching. Snitching is seen as a bad thing," Davis said.
Instead, said Batten, "The student literally while sitting on the bus can look like they are texting anybody else in the world and get that message to us." Police replies carry a police email address; the student can open the email in private and delete it.
"I think the middle school students are going to be more likely to use it initially because of the culture of high schools. I think parents may end up using it as well," Davis said.
Whether students will use it remains to be seen, but it has been well received by adults, who say students have shown that they want to do the right thing, feel safe and protect their friends, alerting resource officers and other adults to potential trouble, such as students possessing weapons.
"Just the way teenagers operate these days — and their parents — we are a very mobile society," said Angela Bernholz, an Old Mill High School psychologist. "I thought it was a great way to have phone resources at our fingertips."
Derek R. Randel, the author of books on school violence and parenting, called the app "a good idea," as long as officers still use discretion in communicating with the sender, who probably won't want to be identified.
Police invested $600 in the app for a service that keeps it alive for a year and gives them an opportunity to see if it's worth continuing.