Police officers and Chariho school administrators attended a webinar on the Say Something program at the Chariho High School library on Tuesday. In the system, "life safety" tips can be reported anonymously to a crisis hotline in Miami. The center screens the information and transmits it to local school and police officials. Cynthia Drummond, The Westerly Sun

WOOD RIVER JCT. — Chariho School District administrators learned about the Say Something anonymous reporting system during a webinar on Tuesday and plan to launch the program later this year. Say Something is a nationwide initiative of the Sandy Hook Promise group. Also in attendance for the presentation at the high school library were members of police departments from the three Chariho towns.

Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit, was formed after the fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. 

In the webinar, Neal Larkin of Sandy Hook Promise said that the goal of the Say Something program is to intervene before a school tragedy occurs.

“We are not about gun control,” he said. “We are above the politics. We are really all focused on the behavioral side, the human side of gun violence.”

Say Something is provided at no cost to school districts across the country. It trains adults and young people to recognize the signs indicating that someone might be a threat to themselves or others.

“Most mass shootings are planned for six months or longer,” Larkin said. “The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter was planning his act for well over a year. People who intend to commit suicide tell someone, or more than one person, of their intentions or give out very clear and strong warning signs. It’s really well-studied and well-documented that troubled youth display patterns of behavior where there are some good days, even good weeks, and then they cycle back to really troubling and dark days. These are the times … that there are opportunities to get this person help.” 

Say Something offers a streamlined system to facilitate the reporting of “life safety” and “non-life safety" behaviors. People can text, email or phone in tips to the Say Something Crisis Center Triage hotline in Miami, Fla., or access the hotline through an app or on a website. 

Life safety tips involve situations that might pose serious threats and are routed simultaneously to three groups: the local police, a special team at the school, and a crisis team led by the superintendent. Life safety tips are transmitted to the police and school district 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Non-life safety tips are forwarded daily to schools between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. 

All tips are anonymous, but in cases where the person submitting the tip is suicidal or in crisis, state and federal laws allow anonymity to be broken in order to protect the individual.

Training will be given to members for the district’s multidisciplinary team and the superintendent’s crisis team. Both teams, and law enforcement, will receive tips forwarded from the crisis center.

Larkin said that parents and students will also receive training. “Once the students get trained, it’s showtime,” he said. 

Chariho Middle School Principal Gregory Zenion said the program would encourage students to come forward who might otherwise be reluctant to report their own crises or those of at-risk peers.

“I think it will be helpful and give us an avenue to try to get information, so kids that are either intimidated by administration, or kids that don’t associate well with adults, may use this,” he said. “If it’s on an app, most of them have phones. It just gives them another avenue, and I really think that sometimes, kids go home and everything settles and then they realize ‘Oh, I should report this,’ and it’s already 6 or 7 o’clock at night and there’s nobody to report it to.”

Chariho Alternative Learning Academy Director Jeanne Ross said her special needs students would welcome an anonymous reporting mechanism.

“They’ll be very accepting,” she said. “They’re very free and open with coming to us with their concerns, so I think this will give them an extra level of feeling they can reach out when they need help or they feel that someone does need help. I think this will increase the number, because they don’t have to be known by us now.”

The lead administrator for the Chariho district will be Mary Beth Florenz, assistant principal of the middle school. The lead law enforcement agency will be the Richmond Police department, where the high school is located.

Richmond Chief Elwood Johnson said he liked the idea of a central call and screening resource.

“This is enhanced, because you have a call — screening center triaging this and then pushing it out rather than your dispatcher on any given shift processing the importance of it,” Johnson said. “There’s less chance for things to fall through the cracks because you have three separate disciplines, all receiving the information at the same time … and you’re saving time because we all have the same information at the same time.”

Charlestown Police Chief Michael Paliotta said anonymous reporting would make it easier for young people to come forward.

“I think the anonymity and the fact that it’s technology-based and directed at young people, who always have a hand-held device, who are on social media, texts, the more it’s going to get used,” he said.

Hopkinton Chief David Palmer also said he liked the anonymous aspect of the program.

“I think the peer pressure makes it very difficult for young people to speak out against some of their peers and having the anonymity to give us information and have us act on that, it’s invaluable,” he said.

The Say Something initiative is expected to be operational sometime in the fall.

The webinar took place during the school administrators' annual advance sessions for the upcoming school year. 

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