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Survey Reveals Increasing Availability and Utility of School Safety Tip Lines in U.S. Public Schools

More than half of public middle and high schools in the U.S. now operate a tip line, results show

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — The first nationally representative assessment of school safety tip lines in the U.S. has found that more than half of public middle and high schools operate a tip line, with 60% of them having been introduced in the past three years. Results of the survey, which was conducted by researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, were detailed in a newly published report.

“This is the first truly comprehensive look at how many tip lines are in use today, the challenges in operating them, and how tip lines are perceived by school administrators,” said Michael Planty, PhD, director of RTI’s Center for Community Safety and Crime Prevention. “Both the growing availability of tip lines and their reported effectiveness is encouraging.”

Tip lines are aimed at preventing incidents that are threats to school safety or student well-being. They come in various forms, including computer applications, websites and telephone hotlines.

Of school administrators who participated in the survey, 77% believed that their tip lines made them more aware of safety issues at their school. Another 73% reported that their tip lines had prevented incidents of self-harm or suicide, and more than half believed that their tip lines had prevented violent incidents.

Most schools involve school administrators and law enforcement officers in their tip line programs, but only about 25% involve mental health professionals or students as active partners, according to the survey.

The most cited challenge in operating a tip line according to schools is tips submitted with insufficient information to act on. Other frequently cited challenges included raising student awareness, getting students to submit tips, receiving false or bogus tips, receiving out-of-scope tips and raising awareness in the community.

Tip lines are more common among larger schools, suburban schools and low-poverty schools, the survey found. 

The survey solicited responses from a nationally representative sample of 1,226 school administrators. It was conducted from February through July 2019 and funded by an award from the National Institute of Justice.