Students and teachers at Utah schools have access to an app that allows users to report threats of violence and seek help from crisis counselors.
The software application, designed to promote school safety and student well-being, has flagged 86 credible threats of school violence over two years, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.
“‘Credible’ ranges on a scale from imminent to yes, we think there are some means, motive, and ability to accomplish the threat,” Reyes said. “It can range anywhere from a hand-held weapon to a bomb or other types of threat.”
Called SafeUT and initiated in 2016, the app is downloaded to smartphones and other mobile devices. It allows students, teachers, or other users to start a chat with a crisis counselor by phone or electronic text, or to submit a tip about a possible threat.
“The powerful part of this is that on the other end of the line, it’s not a voice answering machine, it’s not a calling tree, it is someone who will text back immediately who’s a trained professional,” Reyes said.
The professionals, trained in behavioral and mental health, are experts from the University of Utah’s University Neuropsychiatric Institute who “work staffing the SafeUT lines 24/7,” he said. “And we work with them on funding, they are part of our state system.”
The Utah Legislature funded the app for use in public and private schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, in collaboration with the University Neuropsychiatric Institute, the Utah State Office of Education, the Utah Office of the Attorney General, and the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition.
Reyes said he thinks the technology of SafeUT could have helped stop the 19-year-old with a rifle who killed 17 and wounded 17 others Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“The tragedy in Florida is just horrible,” the Utah attorney general said, “and I don’t want to sound like we are second-guessing anybody or any agency. But I do think that if young people, including this particular young person, may have had more help and attention from some experts earlier in his life, he might have had a better chance to be more productive and less destructive.”
The confessed shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was a former student at the school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He could have been deterred by technology such as the SafeUT app, Reyes said.
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