Officials promote violence tip line

Telephone service intended to prevent shootings in schools

April 08, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Faced with increasing threats of violence in school, Carroll County education officials are teaming up with the state's attorney's office to increase awareness of a 2-year-old anonymous tip line aimed at preventing school shootings that have struck other parts of the country.

School administrators plan to distribute hundreds of posters and thousands of business cards this month with the phone number -- 410-386-2045. Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes also has added a toll-free number -- 866-332-7363, which spells out "fear end" on the telephone -- to accommodate South Carroll residents for whom the tip line has been a long-distance call.

"We've had some luck with kids coming forward and letting us know about issues" before threats of violence have materialized, said Cynthia Little, Carroll's director of pupil services. "But if we're real intent on making our schools safe, kids are the ones who find out first about things that could make our schools unsafe, and this is an opportunity to give the community a vehicle to get that information to those who will follow up and take those tips seriously.

"Our best source of defense against school violence is information," she added, "and our best source of information is our kids."

Since the March 5 school shooting in Santee, Calif., in which a 15-year-old is accused of killing two students and injuring 13 others, at least three Carroll students have been suspended and charged with threatening classmates on school grounds.

Two are accused of compiling a "hit list" of students whom they intended to harm.

Callers who dial either hot-line number hear a recorded message asking for "as much specific information as you have that will help identify the violent act" or threat of violence. Callers can leave their names and phone numbers or provide information anonymously. They are urged to dial 911 or contact the Maryland State Police in an emergency.

"Thank you for helping to stop violence in our schools and community," the recorded message concludes.

On the other end of the hot line sits Gary Cofflin, a domestic violence investigator in the state's attorney's office.

Cofflin does not answer the phone, which rings into his office, but does regularly monitor the messages.

Barnes said the number of tips left on the answering machine has increased in recent weeks.

Both he and interim schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker hope the new posters and the addition of the toll-free number will encourage students to stem the threats of injury and help prevent violence.

"We think it's necessary to put those signs around so that students and others know that they can call the hot line to report whatever they see that's not right," Ecker said. "Hopefully, they'll memorize this number."

Said Barnes, "If we had a situation where someone was planning to bring a firearm into school and commit a violent act, we could intercept and defuse that situation. That's incredibly important to have that ability -- it could potentially avert a tragedy."

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