Q&A with Officer Shane VanNatter about STOPit

Adhi Ramkumar

What advantages or disadvantages have come from the launch of this app?

The advantage is the two-way communication. So people can anonymously report dangerous problems or people who need help and not feel like they have to do it face-to-face. The disadvantage of course is the misuse of the app. People are using it as a joke, sending ridiculous messages and it just wastes the time of staff and the fact that because it’s still anonymous, that if someone were to report something, we have no way to know who it is, so if somebody used that means to communicate a threat, we’d have trouble and we wouldn’t be able to find out who it was. So that’s the downside of that app. The main problem is the false bogus, fake messages that are a waste of everybody’s time. Some of the messages have been very immature.

Do you see any changes in reports since the app has been installed?

In the beginning, the STOPit app company warned us that when you launch this app, the first thing that happens is a bunch of people get on the air and just send silly stuff. They see it over and over again. Middle schools had just 20 or 30 just bogus, fake, dumb, and everyone has to be addressed. Even if it’s bogus you have to look into it. But those things fade away when people get bored with just sending annoying pictures or whatever, and they just stop. So the false reports have really tapered off and now we’re starting to get mostly legitimate, genuine concerns from students.  

Where is the information sent once reported?

Once the information is sent from a student’s app, it goes directly to a large group of administrative staff all the way from the superintendent to building principals and assistant principals and to the police officers that work in the schools. So we all see every alert and then we decide who is assigned to that alert. If someone sends an alert that says, ‘My friend Bob is in trouble, I think he’s going to hurt himself tonight. He put out a message on Snapchat that he’s done with the world and wants to harm himself. And then we assign that to someone. In a case like that, generally, let’s say it’s in the evening, it’s 9 P.M. An officer would then contact the patrol division of the police department and send an officer to their house to check on that student and make sure they’re okay. If it’s something happening in the school day, an administrator might do that. So an assistant principal might go to the classroom, remove the kid from class, and take him to a counsel where he can talk to a counselor about his struggles. Now if that alert is ‘Joe Smith has a weapon in school,’ then it would be handled differently. Law enforcement and the administration would go remove that student from the class, search their backpack, search the person, search their locker, and contact their parents.

What actions are taken when a fake message is sent into the app?

Sometimes for a fake message, we’ll send a response back to the person who sent it and ask them to please just use this for serious, legitimate communication. And if someone were to make a very false alert, there’s not much we can do because we don’t know who sent it. There is no way to track it. There’s no IP address, there’s no source. It all comes from the STOPit company. We just get a message, we don’t have any idea where it comes from.