Following the last school tragedy in Florida, it didn’t take long for Manor Township Supervisor Donald Palmer to get with his police chief, Eric Petrosky, and plan another level of precaution.
A new cell telephone tip line went into effect yesterday. Hooked into multiple social media applications, the township hopes to be able to prevent issues before they get out of hand.
“As a result of the shootings, we got together and came up with the idea of having our own independent tip line for threats involving school incidents, or any incident throughout the community,” Palmer said. “We wanted a tip line where residents could call in directly, text threats, or use social media to report those threats prior to anything happening. We want to be more proactive than reactive in the community.”
There are three schools located in Manor Township, including Lenape Tech, Lenape Elementary, and Armstrong High School. The safety of students is a vital concern of the township’s police force.
“We never want to be in the news for our school to be involved in a violent shooting. We want to prevent that. Anyone can report to this phone – call, text,” Petrosky said. “We also have social media with SnapChat since most students know how to use SnapChat. Our officers get into the schools. There is school security in our schools. We supplement that security by walking through them at various different times. We work with the Pennsylvania State Police, the Sheriff’s Department, other local departments to keep our three schools safe.”
The tip line has become the modern technological form of the Neighborhood Watch program, and can be used by anyone in the community. Petrosky said it is possible now for people to SnapChat or send photos of an accident scene, or other situations that may happen.
“This phone is for any crime, whether it be bullying, a threat that someone is going to go harm a student, any fights that are going to be during or after school – anything that we can prevent through the use of this phone is why we got this program.”
Verizon donated the cell phone and Manor Township will pick up the monthly service rate of $20. The number is 724-859-3474.
Petrosky said that the number is not intended for emergency calls regularly placed to 9-1-1.
“We want people to use the 9-1-1 system. It is designed for immediate response. (When someone calls) this phone, we may be handling an incident. They can leave a message and we will contact them immediately (as soon as we are finished with the incident in progress). We are not trying to circumvent the 9-1-1 process. They can contact us at any time and dispatch us by radio or by phone. If someone is uncomfortable calling a police department or stopping at a police department and speaking face to face (with an officer), this phone is another tool where they can report it and remain anonymous. They can call and leave a message, they can get on our Facebook, they can text a message a report a violation without the fear of giving personal information.”
Although numbers can be identified via caller ID, Petrosky said that information will remain anonymous within the department.
“We are keeping the information confidential and anonymous within our department. We are not giving this information out as to who called.”
Petrosky did state that if a photo or screenshot of a text message was forwarded to the tip line cell phone, it would not be admissible in court unless someone could testify to its authenticity.
“If they can report something and we can stop it before it happens, that is what we are looking for.”
Palmer said the annual fee of $240 per year was well worth the money to provide this tool that may prevent some significant incidents in the community.
Petrosky said he will personally be monitoring the cell phone while on duty. When he is not on duty, he said the officer-in-charge for that shift will have the responsibility of monitoring it.
“We want people to assist us by taking a proactive approach to preventing crime in our area – the schools, the community – and make it safer for everyone. We don’t want to be reactive. We don’t want to go after it happens. We want to try to take a very proactive approach.”
Palmer said that even if calls come into the tip line for another police department outside of Manor Township, that information would be forwarded.
“This is a cell phone. It could be somebody completely out of our community making the report, maybe for a different jurisdiction. If that happens, we will make sure that we share that information with the appropriate jurisdiction as quickly as we get it.”
Petrosky said the way each piece of information that is received on the tip line will be handled appropriately.
“Each scenario is going to be different. We will have to verify the information, investigate the information, make contact with the school administrator. Each case would be handled slightly different. As it is occurring, we will make the determination.”
Palmer said the tip line will be monitored by the supervisor through regular reporting.
“Every month, we do a police report at our monthly meetings. We will add it on to that report and track the number of calls received verses the number that provided us with valid information towards a crime.”
The tip line is also available to Burrell and Bethel township residents and the vicinity of Crooked Creek Lake Park since those areas are patrolled by Manor Township.