Student text line to report suicide, bullying already seeing success

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OGDEN — A new text-in tip line designed specifically for students has already been successful in its first few weeks of operation, according to police and school officials.

The new "Friends" program was developed from existing technology used to mange crime tips. The software has been tweaked to allow students to text in and report potential suicides, bullying, abuse and drugs.

John Harvey, a deputy director in the Ogden Police Department, said the program was implemented the first week of November in Weber County schools and was introduced to the Ogden School District this week.

"If you've got a friend that you think might be going to hurt themselves or maybe they're doing something they shouldn't be doing, there's an avenue now to anonymously report that," Harvey said. "And we think this is going to be significant."

When the program first rolled out, Harvey said students were testing out the text line. But the testing soon gave way to more pressing text messages.

"We had a couple of tips come in. People having suicidal thoughts, people who were cutters," Harvey said. "We had a bomb threat, we had another one where they were bullying."

Those first successes haven't stopped there.

"Apparently the word got out because we've gotten them from as far away as Payson, from Tooele, and had a private school student send us a text this week on bullying," Harvey said. "It's actually growing outside the boundaries of what we intended."

Students send the word "FRIENDS" followed by the school name and the rest of their tip to 274637 and the tip will go to the Ogden Police Department's Real Time Crime Center.

Once the tip has been received, logged, and vetted, officers can send a group e-mail and text message to the principal, counselor and school resource officer.

"It's a belt and suspenders approach with the idea that maybe we won't drop the ball if we're doing everything we can to get that information out there … but kind of leave the implication that it was a police thing out of it, so it's really more about friends taking care of friends," Harvey said.

If you've got a friend that you think might be going to hurt themselves or maybe they're doing something they shouldn't be doing, there's an avenue now to anonymously report that. And we think this is going to be significant.

–John Harvey, Ogden Police Department deputy director

Friday, five students attending a Student of the Month breakfast for Highland Junior High said they have all known friends who wanted to harm themselves. But Nate Martinez, a ninth-grader, said that information isn't usually well-known.

"They try to keep it to themselves, so they don't tell other people, because they don't want other people to know," he said.

Martinez said it is import for these students to get help.

"Because you don't want them to hurt themselves and end up killing themselves," he said. "It's very hard to go through that, when you get a phone call and your friend's dead."

Jaqueline Barajas, another ninth-grader at the school, said she thinks the Friends program is a great resource for students.

"A lot of kids they do go through hard stuff and they don't have anyone to talk to," she said.

As friends approach Barajas with thoughts of harming themselves, she said she tries to give them the best advice she can. But with the new tip line, she can now refer her friends there to get help.

"I would just tell them, 'Hey you can call this and they can help you,'" Barajas said. "They're not going to know it's you. They're just going to be there to help you."

Harvey said the idea came after brainstorming about the way kids communicate. Students don't talk on the phone much, but they do text.

"Hopefully we can get this information out to the kids and where it's anonymous, they can get us information that they wouldn't normally want to send to us," Ogden police officer Jamie Garcia said.

He said it can be very difficult to get the kids to speak up, especially to an authoritative figure.

"They don't want to be the one that tells on their friend," Garcia said. "At these ages, it's difficult for them to be the one who comes forward and says something."

Harvey said he sees the new system as a model to the country because of minimal costs to expand the current tip line and the effectiveness they've seen already.

"(It) is just an extra tool to help us get information out or help us receive information and to help us also get some help to the kids that need it for whatever issue they're dealing with," Garcia said.


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