A tip-line for confidentially reporting threats of school violence in Missouri got an overhaul this summer — though it's still too early for the Missouri Highway Patrol to know what it will learn from the information it collects and passes on to local schools and law enforcement agencies.
Gov. Mike Parson in March signed an executive order at Blair Oaks High School that created the Missouri School Safety Task Force, which publicly released its final report to Parson last month.
The task force studied the federal government's school safety report commissioned following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead, and gathered input from across the state to make recommendations for Missouri.
Though the recommendation every school should have an armed officer to protect students — where affordable and approved by districts — has gotten headlines, another of the task force's recommendations in its strategic plan for school safety in Missouri is to promote the Courage2Report tip-line.
At the same event in March at Blair Oaks High School's gym where Parson created the school safety task force, Director of the Department of Public Safety Sandra Karsten said the Missouri School Violence Hotline — which began in October 2001 — was being moved from the Department of Social Services' supervision to the Department of Public Safety's so the hotline could be covered 24/7.
Mass shootings give rise to bullet-resistant backpacksRead more
In May, Highway Patrol Capt. Ryan Burckhardt told the school safety task force at a public hearing in Jefferson City of the hotline's rebranded name: Courage2Report, which he said became active that month.
"It was a lot of work; you don't realize how much work until you get into it — technologically, staffing, funding — to get it rolling, but it is up and rolling," Burckhardt said.
Burckhardt is the director of the Missouri Information Analysis Center, or MIAC, which is the state's fusion center that collects, analyzes and shares information and intelligence with other public safety agencies.
Burckhardt said other states have some similar, more robust programs, and in particular said "We're modeling much of ours after Colorado."
He said that after sitting in on a call with other states, "I think in a lot of ways we are ahead of the game, nationally," though he added having a standardized national framework for such hotlines "would be nice."
After its move to the supervision of the Department of Public Safety, Missouri's preK-12 school violence tip-line resides within MIAC.
"It provides students, parents, teachers and community members with a safe and confidential way to report a threat or potential threat to students or school safety," the Department of Public Safety's Communications Director Mike O'Connell wrote in an email to the News Tribune last week — adding private and charter schools are also included in Courage2Report.
O'Connell wrote the new 24/7 staffing of the tip-line will allow reports from concerned individuals to be addressed in real-time, "and disseminated to law enforcement or school personnel or both."
"Someone may be less apt to call the police and may feel a little more confident using an anonymous reporting mechanism," Burckhardt said in May.
"If we can identify an emergency that needs to be handled urgently, that'd be a significant goal accomplished for each and every time it occurs," he said.
The tip-line's website describes "Any threat to life that happens on school property or the school bus should be reported to C2R," including physical assault, sexual offenses, weapons, human trafficking, planned school attacks, school shootings, planned suicides or "terrorism threat-extremism."
"Officials with the school and law enforcement will then determine how to appropriately handle each report," according to the website of what happens after a report is made and relayed from MIAC.
Plan to boost ‘red flag’ gun laws gains momentumRead more
O'Connell relayed from Burckhardt that Courage2Report is just an information-sharing mechanism and not an investigative agency.
"The local agency is asked to report the disposition of the matter, but this is voluntary, as there is nothing to compel them to do it," O'Connell wrote of how tips are handled.
"There have been a few tips, but not many at this point. The new system started in May, and school has just resumed," O'Connell wrote, adding "there have been tips about things that are not school-related, and this program is only for school-related issues."
"The patrol will be retaining information, and as the program moves forward with more inputs, it will be looking at trends and analyzing data. Right now, it's too early to glean anything," O'Connell said.
O'Connell said there were training sessions held for school administrators over the summer, and information was shared with administrators at an annual Department of Elementary and Secondary Education conference.
Schools are being asked to "identify multi-disciplinary team members who are responsible for receiving tip reports 24/7 and to initiate appropriate action," and DESE and the patrol will follow up with schools that have not shared team contact information.
O'Connell wrote there would be no sanction or measure against schools that don't provide the information.
In terms of funding for Courage2Report, O'Connell wrote "The state is using a federal Victims of Crime Act grant to defray the cost of software and much of the personnel expenses. It's a five year grant."
He said the tip-line is staffed by "officers from the patrol, as well as civilians who are assigned to MIAC."
The toll-free phone number for Courage2Report is 1-866-748-7047. The tip-line's website, www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/Courage2ReportMO/index.html, also has an online reporting mechanism and shows a mobile app is available for download through iTunes for Apple devices and the Google PlayStore for Android devices.