PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Two years ago a new school safety tool was launched across Oregon and it’s already helping students across the state.
SafeOregon is a tip line that lets you submit tips about all kinds of threats — from bullying to gun violence — to trained staff 24/7.
Oregon State Police launched the anonymous, free and easy to use program after a U.S. Department of Education study found that getting tips early can prevent violence.
“The idea was to give students a safe place to connect with law enforcement or adults or their teachers and give them a little anonymity,” OSP Capt. Tim Fox said. “We wanted them to be comfortable and be able to say, ‘hey, I’m being bullied’ or this is happening or that is happening and give them an avenue so that they could report it.”
SafeOregon has a smartphone app but people can also email, text or call in their concerns. Trained staff at a call center in Louisiana will respond and contact the tipster’s local police or school administrators — depending on the type of incident.
“This is definitely a partnership program and 87% of the schools in Oregon are part of SafeOregon,” Fox said.
SafeOregon first launched in Eastern Oregon, where the small town of Hermiston showed for the first time how the program can save lives.
Cpl. Riley Studebaker and Officer Derrick Williams of the Hermiston Police Department rarely work together — “We’ll see each other once every couple of days just to high five and say ‘You got the city now,'” Studebaker said.
But one of the times they did was after someone called SafeOregon in November 2017 on a night neither one of them will forget.
Studebaker said a local high school student’s friend called the SafeOregon tipline to report threats of suicide. The tip was directed to local 911 and Studebaker got the call.
“While I was talking to her, she told me that the last text message she had received from him was the juvenile with a belt around his neck after making multiple suicidal threats,” Studebaker said. “So I got on the radio, I told Officer Williams to get there as fast as he could and had medics staged.”
Williams and Studebaker got to the child’s house and found him in his room.
“I could tell he wasn’t breathing,” Williams said. “We pulled him to the ground got the belt off and started CPR immediately. I didn’t check for a pulse, I just started CPR.”
The local high school student survived and the officers — who have never spoken publicly before — were recognized with an award for saving a life.
“…it’s thanks to the juvenile that reported it, SafeOregon and the quick response we were able to do because of those resources,” Williams said.
“It was less than 10 minutes from the time that SafeOregon had received the call to the time that we were in there helping the juvenile, so the system works,” Studebaker said.
Williams thinks the fact that it’s anonymous helps get more people to report issues.
“… ’cause sometimes they’re scared to report this and the fear of somebody being mad at them or upset with them — so I think the anonymous helps as well,” he said.
Now more than 1,000 schools with 523,000 students use SafeOregon and two years it has logged more than 2,800 tips.
“The majority that we’re receiving complaints and tips about are bullying and harassment,” Maureen Wheeler with the Beaverton School District said.
She said they also see tips about threats and attempts of suicide.
“We want to be able to intervene as soon as possible and so the mechanism from the state is to contact the school and then we can go into action right away,” Wheeler said.
It was in Beaverton on Nov. 6, 2018, when police officers responded to a threat at Southridge High School.
Beaverton police said someone saw a post on social media of a picture of a masked student with a gun and reported it to SafeOregon.
“The tip line got a hold of law enforcement and the school district and we worked together to resolve the situation so that by the next day we had a grasp on the situation,” Kevin McDonald with Beaverton police said. “That’s probably a very textbook good use of the system.”
Officials hope every school will sign up for SafeOregon.
The program is funded by a law that allocates $1 million over 5 years to Oregon State Police. Without more funding, schools are having trouble marketing SafeOregon.
In Beaverton, the information is printed on the back of student ID cards.
A marketing class in Beaverton actually created a marketing template that includes a brochure and slides that were shared with other schools for free advertising.
“We had a contest to have kids pitch their best campaign of how would they have pitched SafeOregon and put a whole marketing campaign together and we got to choose,” Wheeler said.
The winning public service announcement video produced by students at Beaverton’s Health and Science School shows a girl being bullied on social media — another issue addressed by SafeOregon.
“You if I didn’t go to a birthday party when I was 14 years old, I probably didn’t know about it,” Fox said. “I think with social media, you live a totally different life than we lived… There’s people out there that make very rude, mean comments. It’s a totally different world, I can’t even imagine to grow up in it.”
Fox said adults recognize that it’s hard being a kid sometimes but they want people to seek help.
“If no one knows that there’s a problem there’s no way that we can fix it,” he said.