Internet Plays Increasing Role In Preventing School Violence
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor

One of the most valuable resources in preventing incidents in any school walks the hallways, talks to other students and sees everything going on right in front of them. This tool is not a uniformed officer, but instead the everyday student. For many, however, finding the right outlet to report incidents they hear about remains a dilemma. 

"Students basically want two things in order for them to feel comfortable in reporting safety concerns," says Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services. "One is anonymity. The other is knowing that someone will follow through on looking into the matter and taking the appropriate action. If students know that their identity will not be revealed and that an adult will do something, it actually promotes trust and confidence among students and the adults who are responsible for their safety."

One outlet for students to report such incidents is through the Internet. There are currently a number of websites where students can log on, type in a rumor or concern and have that information delivered immediately and discretely to a school administrator.

According to Trump, schools need to treat all threats seriously, investigate each case thoroughly and use common sense in rendering appropriate consequences. He says the responsibility falls upon everyone connected to students to gather information on safety concerns.

"School officials need to investigate for the purpose of information gathering to make informed, sound, and balanced common-sense decisions," says Trump. "In that context, information gathering and the sharing of concerns is the role of the administrator, teacher, counselor, safety officials, parents, and others who are involved with students."

Creating a Web-based School-Law Enforcement Connection

The events at Columbine and other sites of school violence have fueled an increased need for collaboration between schools and local law enforcement. One innovative web-based solution is currently bringing these sides together both in the United States and internationally to share information and work together to keep schools safe.

The School Violence Watch Network is a place for schools and law enforcement to quickly and privately share information about what goes on in the hallways along with the ability to also share information with other Network-member schools. The network has created a clearinghouse of information on threats, rumors and other information that may aid both sides in preventing harmful incidents.

"We are connecting schools and law enforcement in a highly flexible way, to give them a tool that enables them to efficiently communicate, collaborate and be as proactive against school violence as they choose to be," says Thor Lundberg, CEO, President and Chairman of Cyber Enforcement Resources Incorporated, who operates the Network. 

Lundberg adds that because the Network serves as a clearinghouse, information on known threats can be entered and categorized accordingly, such as "type of threat" and "perceived severity," and then used several different ways. School administrators can let others around the globe know what they are seeing in their own backyard, observe trends and provide a history of occurring threats in their own school or another member's school, proactively alert local law enforcement that may also be members and much more.

"I personally believe that it is essential that schools and law enforcement work together, especially with the very real possibility of school violence," says Lundberg, who is also a police officer, serving as the Computer Crime Investigator and Computer Forensic Specialist for the Raynham (Ma.) Police Department. 

According to Louis Pacheco, co-creator of the Network and Deputy Chief of Police for the Raynham Police Department, the changing of the times and technology have changed how both schools and law enforcement gauge the severity of rumors.

"In the old days, rumors were measured by how often they were heard and how far away from the source it spread," he says. "That measuring stick is junk now. All one kid has to do is place a call on a cell phone, post on the Internet or [Instant Message] someone and put the rumor out there."

While technology has made rumors easier to spread, these same innovations are allowing students to report information they are concerned about.

Getting Help from "Students Who Care"

Another component of the School Violence Watch Network allows students themselves to play an active role in keeping their schools safe. The Students Who Care system can be used by member schools to enable youth to anonymously and securely report rumors or threats of violence they know about. Schools can set up "response teams" of staff members who receive this information via e-mail as soon as they are posted, giving them immediate and timely information on potential situations.

"We are of the belief that students are the key to the equation in helping deter and prevent violence and improper conduct from occurring within their school or amongst their classmates, as they are often privy to critical information - threats, acts of violence and/or improper conduct - and rumor well before a faculty member or school administrator," says Lundberg. "Using the Students Who Care system, schools can provide their own students a secure and anonymous outlet where they can report their concerns ensuring that those reports are sent directly to 'the right' personnel at the school." 

He also realizes that there are many situations where, unfortunately, many students do not talk to adults, such as school faculty or even their own parents. The Students Who Care system is designed to work around these limitations. By allowing anonymity in reporting, even those students who would normally never come forward have a mechanism to do their part in helping keep their environment safe.

"On the issue of anonymity, if a student was to make a report, and a particularly bullish classmate was to become aware of this fact, the occurrence of bullying and reprisal are very real possibilities," says Lundberg. "As such, the consequences of such actions could be very counter-productive, actually stepping against the very goal we are trying to accomplish."

Lundberg believes that school officials, on their own, should have complete freedom to use the system in any way they see fit, if they choose to utilize it at all. If they do, administrators may decide to set up a computer terminal in the school's office, in a private area of the school, in a common hallway or instead provide the needed identification information for students to use in the privacy of their own home. 

While the system's use is at the discretion of each school, Lundberg does advise that anonymity be a key factor.

"The Students Who Care system, as designed from the beginning, is completely capable of being deployed in any number of ways a school may choose," he says. "Even so, we encourage schools to be especially sensitive to their students and choose one or a couple highly anonymous implementations."

Internet Reporting as One Piece of the Prevention Puzzle 

The increased use of technology to report safety concerns is one way schools can be aware of potentially harmful activity, but not the only way, says Trump.

"Any use of technology is a supplement to, but not a substitute for, the human element, planning and more comprehensive components of school safety planning," he says. "Technology is a tool, not a panacea. Security technology use is becoming more common, but technology is only one aspect of a comprehensive school safety plan."

Nowhere is Trump's point of view better expressed than in a new endeavor by the Hamilton Fish Institute - the Student Incident Reporting and Evaluation Network (SIREN). 

In 2001, the Institute conducted a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education on school incident reporting systems. The study found that most school administrators do not have the needed information to identify violence prevention needs in their schools and, as a result, to develop effective responses. Furthermore, while many students see no problem with not reporting information on serious threats, schools themselves are under pressure to report low numbers of incidents rather than accurate incident statistics.

To read the full report - "School-Based Surveillance of Violence, Injury and Disciplinary Action," go to:

To assist with these and other conclusions of the study, SIREN was created so school administrators could more accurately gauge what is going on in the halls of their schools and use that information more effectively. 

"The goal [of SIREN] is to increase the quality and access of data regarding violence in schools," says Jamie Middleton, a Research Associate for Hamilton Fish. "The study shows that there is a 100% discrepancy in violence reporting by students and staff. While we don't think 100% more violence occurs, we want to get violence reported."

Dealing With a "Code of Silence"

The network began in January at seven schools in the states of Oregon, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Wisconsin. This pilot run of SIREN will last for one semester with schools participating in a survey in May inquiring about how valuable the various elements of the program were to both students and administrators.

SIREN relies on four main tools: student incident reporting software, anonymous tip lines (both via telephone and web-based), enhanced incident protocols and the use of Students Against Violence Everywhere, a student organization that promotes nonviolence.

The network will use as its means of allowing students to anonymously report any safety concerns they have. This fits into the comfort level of students who want to volunteer information that may help them and their peers, says Middleton.

"Kids need to have a place they can go, be comfortable reporting and not fear consequences," she says. "We are taking advantage of web-based anonymity and kids are in tune with [the Internet], so web-based [reporting] seems ideal."

With the realization that not all youth will have Internet access at home or the availability of a large computer lab, also uses a toll-free hotline for students to call and express concerns.

According to Middleton, there is a "code of silence" amongst students who don't want to report anything to school staff for fear of being a rat or tattletale.

"Kids have a hard time [knowing when] it is tattling and when it is important to tell," she says. "Also, they will say '[this rumor] will not really happen, and I don't want to be the one to start the ball rolling' and get the police involved. [We thought] anonymity would increase reporting and would provide an outlet for students."

Another concern expressed by schools, she says, is that students are not coming forward with information, even though they have very good relationships with staff. For example, research shows that a bullied student is unlikely to tell a staff member, for fear of retribution and even if they did tell, the teacher would not do anything.

Middleton says SIREN's mission is to help schools address violence more completely and to do that, create ways to access the right information. Whether using the information from a tip-line or pooling information from reporting software, school staff will have the right tools to help deal with and hopefully prevent incidents threatening the safety of both students and staff.

"[A tool like incident reporting software] allows schools to pull up reports on where and when violence is likely to happen and create a violence prevention plan based on information versus picking the hot program of the month they read about and not knowing if that particular issue [affects their school]," she says.


For more information on the School Violence Watch Network and Students Who Care, go to:

For more information on SIREN, go to:

For more information on, go to: or read the Time2Act article at

Thor Lundberg, President, CEO and Chairman, Cyber Enforcement Resources Incorporated, (508) 386-1264,

Jamie Middleton, Research Associate, Hamilton Fish Institute, (202) 496-8487,

Louis J. Pacheco, Deputy Chief of Police, Raynham (Ma.) Police Department, 
(508) 824-2756

Kenneth Trump, President, National School Safety and Security Services, 
(216) 251-306,
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339