MANATEE — A tip about a drug deal on a middle school campus in East Manatee led to the arrest of four students last school year.
The year before, another tip helped recover a $500 stolen cell phone.
The tipsters? Manatee County School District students.
Their outlet for alert? Campus CrimeStoppers.
Just like Manatee CrimeStoppers, the local program provides ways for students to provide anonymous tips if they see something shady or illegal on campus. They can call a toll-free tip line, secretly meet with their school’s student resource officer or even go online and send a tip via the Internet.
During its first year of operation in 2007, police officers received four tips through the program. Last year police received 30 tips that led to 39 arrests. In all, officers have netted 84 tips that have led to 98 arrests.
As the program enters its fourth year, officials have added an extra feature to make it easier for students to alert authorities — text tipping.
“Kids can text their tip and even upload digital photos to provide evidence. When they do so, they’ll get an acknowledgement text back immediately,” said Frank Brunner, executive director for Manatee CrimeStoppers. “It’s just one more tool to help.”
This past year, the school district recognized Manatee CrimeStoppers as its civic partner of the year for implementing the campus-based program.
Posters went up during the first week of school to let students know they can now text in tips.
“We’re also giving out bumper stickers, magnets and even little rubber bracelets that all the kids like to wear,” Brunner said.
Southeast High School senior Marissa Maulbeck said she thinks students will favor text tipping over the hotline. “Some people don’t like calling, maybe they would be afraid someone will hear them. Texting is more secretive,” said Maulbeck, 18.
She questioned whether students will get in trouble for using phones on campus. According to district policy, cell phones are to be turned off while students are on school grounds.
But there are extenuating circumstances, said school board attorney John Bowen. “If they see a crime being committed and use their phone to report it, they would not be disciplined,” Bowen said.
Reynaldo Calzadilla, a junior at Southeast, said he knows classmates who in past years have expressed concerns about participating in the program.
“The issue is their reputation in high school would be ruined because they’d be deemed a tattletale,” said the 17-year-old.
But he hopes that doesn’t stop his classmates from using Campus CrimeStoppers. “I would tell them to call just because the safety of other people is in jeopardy,” Calzadilla said.
“If you don’t call, something worse than what was happening at that moment could happen in the future.”
An added incentive for students is a monetary reward for their efforts.
Rewards for tips range from $25 to $100 and if a firearm is recovered, it’s an automatic $500, Brunner said.
“And if they have a major crime on the campus, like serious vandalism, student resource officers at the schools can request a higher reward,” Brunner said.
So far this school year, no tips have come in as students have just started back to class, said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Det. Dan Hutto, the Campus CrimeStoppers coordinator. When tips come in, they go to him so he can filter them out to the proper authorities, including the Palmetto or Bradenton police departments.
SEE A CRIME ON CAMPUS?
Here’s how to make an anonymous tip:
n Call the toll-free tip line: (866) 634-TIPS (8477)
n Visit www.manateecrimestoppers.com/
n Text MCSTIPS to 274637.
n Talk to a student resource officer.