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Project Safe Campus Gives Students a Voice

Location: Michigan By Becky Lewis Published February 2016

He struck back against an eighth-grade bully. He was the one who was disciplined.

Because he had an exemplary record, he received probation and stayed in school.

Scenarios similar to this one probably play out in schools around the country every week, maybe even every day. The one described briefly above actually happened to a boy more than 30 years ago, a boy who grew up to have an eight-season National Basketball Association career, but who never forgot what it felt like to be a victim who had nowhere to turn. When Crime Stoppers of Michigan approached Willie Burton to ask for his help in promoting a pilot initiative to allow students to submit tips on a variety of school-related issues, including bullying, he was quick to say yes to becoming project manager for Project Safe Campus. The pilot project — a joint effort among Crime Stoppers, local law enforcement and participating schools — started in 20 schools in Detroit and received 43 tips in the first 60 days of use in 2015.

“Project Safe Campus has been an asset to the Detroit Public Schools Police Department. Not only have they helped in our crime reduction and investigation efforts, but we have been able to act on tips identifying troubled students, some of whom were even contemplating suicide, and the district was able to intervene before a tragedy occurred. The Project Safe Campus model also helps to instill in students a sense of empowerment and personal responsibility that will serve them well throughout their lives,” says Assistant Chief Craig W. Schwartz.

By the end of 2015, Project Safe Campus had spread from Detroit to more than 300 schools in eight counties. Students can submit tips to Project Safe Campus by calling 1-800-SPEAK-UP, by texting 274637 or by going online to www.1800speakup.org. The system preserves anonymity by sending calls to Canada, where they are scrambled, then sent back to staff for processing.

“It hit close to home with me because in 1981, I was on the verge of being expelled because I retaliated against someone who made it a point to make my day miserable,” Burton says. “Because of that, I wanted to empower the small persons. I wanted to give them a way to report the things they saw, but couldn’t talk about without putting themselves in further jeopardy.”

Burton says Crime Stoppers of Michigan has provided all funding needed for the pilot program, and Project Safe Campus will begin to seek other funding sources to expand the program throughout more of the state.

“This is a student-led initiative, we’re just here to manage it for them,” he says. “They’re reporting everything you can think of, from arson to fights, from cyberbullying to theft. Suicide is really big. Some of these tips have been very valuable. Students have been taken to the hospital and their lives saved because they attempted suicide and someone reported it.”

Patricia A. Murray, former principal of East English Village Preparatory Academy, credited Project Safe Campus with allowing her security team to stop a potentially dangerous situation: “We were able to curtail a potentially dangerous situation recently when one of our students called in a tip about a possible confrontation involving several that was rumored to go down at our school. We were able to have security and administration in place to keep an eye out and to prevent anything from happening. Project Safe Campus allows our students to feel safe to call and report wrong doings without the negative stigma of being a ‘snitch’.”

The project does allow students to collect a reward of up to $100 for an actionable tip; in order to maintain confidentiality, callers receive an ID number to use to track the progress of the tip and claim any reward. However, Burton says that 97 percent of those eligible never claim the money, which may then be awarded to a school’s student government fund instead: “They just want to help, they’re not doing it for the money.”