You see a student getting bullied. You overhear a kid threatening to bring a gun to school. You spot another hiding drugs in his backpack.
You probably won’t call 911, but there’s a way you can quickly alert police and school officials: Just tip them off using a free mobile app called SaferWatch.
More than 550 tips have flowed in to Broward School District officials and law enforcement channels over the past school year, SaferWatch President Geno Roefaro said Tuesday during a news conference at district headquarters in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Most of the tips came from students, parents and teachers.
But Superintendent Robert Runcie said he’s hoping everyone in Broward County will download the app to report threats or concerns that might not warrant a call to 911.
“We can’t get this done alone,” he said. “We want to make sure everyone in Broward County is using SaferWatch. The more connected our community is, the safer it will be.”
The safety app was launched in August 2018, six months after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. The massacre killed 17 and injured 17.
School Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was one of those killed, praised the safety app as a way to safeguard lives.
“We want everyone in our community, if you see something to say something — or send something,” she said.
In the past 10 months, SaferWatch has gotten hundreds of tips about school shooting threats, social media threats, guns, drugs, suicide concerns and bullying, Roefaro said.
Some teens have been reluctant to use the app for fear the company might be mining it for data. But Roefaro says that’s not happening.
It’s up to users which photos and videos they want to send to authorities, he said. They also can choose to make their tips anonymous — or not.
“You’d have to upload a photo to send it in,” he said. “When you send a tip, you can decide if you want to be anonymous or you want to be yourself.”
To help investigators move quickly, tipsters should take screenshots of any online threats, Roefaro said.
“A lot of times it may not be an emergency, but something may seem off,” Roefaro said.
Users can also get real-time alerts about school lockdowns and other security issues.
The app has also helped police find missing children and adults, he said.
“An 8-year-old boy walked away from school and got lost,” Roefaro said. “They sent out his photo on SaferWatch and were able to find him within minutes.”
Roefaro’s Boca Raton company developed the app. So far, Broward is the only school district using it, but Roefaro says he has built similar apps for some undisclosed Florida agencies and a Massachusetts school district.
The Fortify Florida app is another free app that can be used to alert school officials and police about suspicious activity, Runcie said.