Students are always told to “see something, say something” when it comes to criminal activity and suspicious behavior, and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office wants students, teachers and parents to put that philosophy into practice with a school safety app.
School security has been a topic of frequent discussion in recent weeks. In the first week of school, three Lafayette Parish schools were threatened.
On Aug. 20, 28-year-old Raylin James was arrested after threatening Dr. Raphael A. Baranco Elementary during what authorities described as a domestic dispute.
And just three days later, two students were were accused of making shooting threats against David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy and Edgar Martin Middle School. They were arrested and later released to their parents.
The threats came to light after a woman called 911 about her daughter getting a call from a boy saying he was in possession of a firearm and not to attend school the next day.
Another student was warned not to go to school Friday because there would be a shooting.
Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. John Mowell said law enforcement and the school system want to encourage more people to be proactive in alerting authorities to such potential threats.
Last fall, when the school resource officer program was expanded to all Lafayette Parish school campuses, the Sheriff’s Office launched the StudentProtect app, a free smartphone app that allows parents, students and school faculty members to quickly connect with law enforcement.
The app allows users to anonymously submit tips to the school resource officer team about threats, bullying, suspicious activity and more. Downloading the app also allows them to receive notifications about security concerns or incidents at or near schools, and to share their location with law enforcement during emergency situations.
Those submitting tips can also attach photos, audio, video and screenshots to provide evidence supporting their report.
Mowell said users can select from among more than 70 schools from which to receive notifications, including private and charter schools in the parish. This way, the school resource officer team can send out targeted alerts rather than overwhelming users with alerts for every school.
The goal of the app is to encourage reporting and increased engagement with law enforcement by making the process more accessible and less intimidating, he said.
“Apps are just a way of life today. There’s an app for everything, and the beauty of this is that it consolidates the information. The app gives every person the ability to connect with law enforcement in the event of an incident and report,” Mowell said.
The app also plays an important administrative role for the student resource officer program, he said. Each time a tip is submitted the information is received by the program's managers, supervisors and intelligence detectives so an organized response can be deployed more quickly.
The tip is routed to the necessary in-school reource officer, but other officers and intelligence detectives can also step in if the threat or concern involves multiple schools. That’s a much more common concern today, Mowell said, because of how connected students are through the internet and social media.
A woman was arrested on a count of terrorizing Tuesday after making threats against students at Dr. Raphael A. Baranco Elementary, prompting t…
Despite being active for almost a year, adoption of the app has been slow, Mowell said. Many families aren’t aware it’s available and not every school has pushed it out to families, he said.
Mowell said the school rsource officer team has been exploring the app’s capabilities over the last year and plan to give schools more autonomy to send other messages to parents and students through the app. That may be one way to get more people on board.
“We’re definitely hoping this year’s numbers will be a lot better,” Mowell said.
Broadmoor Elementary principal David Zielinski is one of the app’s proponents. Zielinski said he was unaware of the app in its first year, but after a presentation to school principals at a pre-semester district meeting, he’s interested in adopting it this year. He said he's providing his faculty with more facts before promoting it to parents.
Zielinski said he thinks the app will be a good fit for his school. While largely a safe campus with a low rate of disciplinary infractions, Broadmoor is still susceptible to suspicious activity outside the school. It’s always good to take steps to be proactive, he said.
“We want all of our students to learn, but my primary concern is that they’re all safe during the school day. This is another outlet or another tool that we can use to make sure we’re keeping our kids safe,” Zielinski said.