Law enforcement comes together to focus on school safety and teams up with Crime Stoppers
A motto that Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno often touts, “see something, say something, make the call,” is key to preventing school shootings, law enforcement officials point out across Florida this week.
A two-day summer conference for the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers Seminar kicked off Tuesday in Estero. The conference drew dozens of people to focus on board best practices for anonymous reporting, as well as working with law enforcement and the media to resolve cases, especially cases cold. Crime Stoppers covers 61 of Florida’s 67 counties.
Trish Routte, manager of Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers, said the conference is held annually and allows local programs to share ideas.
“The timing of this meeting is such after the school shootings in Texas,” Routte said. “We’ve refocused the focus of this meeting to really focus on gathering anonymous advice from the public, students and teachers, making sure law enforcement gets that information quickly.”
Marceno and prosecutor Amira Fox delivered the opening remarks.
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Marceno said his priority is educating county residents and statewide law enforcement about the importance of school safety, among other topics.
“There are so many cases we are working on that are so difficult,” Marceno told The News-Press. “Sometimes we come to a point in a case where we have nowhere to go.”
With no suspects or victims, Marceno says it takes a whole village to bring these suspects to justice.
Crime Stoppers helps solve open cases
“Crime Stoppers has made a difference in some very important cases,” State Attorney Amira Fox told The News-Press. “They were able to get the case out in the open, and then because of the great work of our assistant prosecutors and our juries in this city, we were able to arrest and convict some very violent people… And put them away for the rest of their life.”
She added that it all started with Crime Stoppers.
“To have it here, where we have the lowest crime rate in all of Florida, I think sends a real message to our jurisdiction, to our counties and to the rest of the state,” Fox said. “When you work together and put your heads together, and everyone works as a team… It makes a huge difference.”
Marceno added that “sometimes the real heroes are behind the scenes.”
“Nobody can really see who answers that phone, takes that call, and puts together that critical information to give it to us,” Marceno said.
Routte said the goal is to set up a communication system that would identify potential struggling students.
“We just need to make sure that for the next school year, we do absolutely everything we can to make sure students, parents, and teachers know how they can report this information,” Routte said.
She says a strong relationship with law enforcement is key.
“As soon as that tip comes in, whether it’s 3 p.m. or 2 a.m., it’s going to get immediate attention,” she said.
Routte said if a tip comes in overnight, it’s picked up before school starts the next day.
She added that all but six counties in the state are part of Crime Stoppers.
“We can see what works in other counties and we can all learn from each other,” Routte said.
Advice lines help callers stay anonymous
She says their goal is to help students recognize and use their reporting tools.
“We know students have information,” Routte said. “They hear things, they see things… Sometimes they can be reluctant to tell an adult about it, so we want them to know that with Crime Stoppers, they’ll always be anonymous.”
Routte said that by using their whistleblower lines, students will remain anonymous, avoid testifying in court, and be eligible for cash rewards if the information they provide leads to an arrest.
Others in attendance for Tuesday’s keynote were from Treasure Coast, Palm Beach and Broward counties, as well as Pensacola in the Keys.
“A lot of great stuff is coming out and you get to find out what other Crime Stoppers are doing across Florida,” said Russ Marcham, coordinator of Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers. The region covers Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.
Do you have a concern? report it
Marcham said people can take other places besides Crime Stoppers to report anonymously.
“People see something on social media, especially if it’s a video,” said Rick Vidiri, executive director of Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers. “And then they recognize that person or they have information about them, and they send us the tip.”
Marcham said people often mistake them for law enforcement. He and Vidiri are retired law enforcement officers.
“The best we can do is just promote ourselves so kids, teens, adults… Know that we’re a resource to be able to report things,” Marcham said.
Last March, a teenage girl was arrested in Port St. Lucie, on Florida’s Treasure Coast, after an investigation into a “murder list” involving eight names on her phone.
Likewise, Palm Beach County is taking steps to encourage the community to report concerns.
“I think attention needs to be focused on the school shootings and mass murders that are happening, attention needs to shift from just the public being aware to school boards being willing to work with Crime Stoppers. said Sherri Cole, president of Palm Beach County Crime Stoppers and an active probation and parole officer for the state.
Engaging school boards in Crime Stoppers is an important step
However, she fears that some boards will welcome an alliance.
“They don’t want the public to know how much is out there,” she said.
Cole said he has received numerous tips in Palm Beach County over the past 12 months, and added that many of them have fallen through the cracks.
“We notified the locals, and it resulted in either a Baker law or a school suspension,” Cole said.
When the Baker Law is applied, those affected are referred to a specialist for mental health treatment for up to 72 hours.
“I think if school boards get a lot more involved in Crime Stoppers, I think we’ll be a lot more effective,” Cole said. “People see it on the news and say, ‘Oh my God, it happened in Texas.’ Not too long ago it happened in Parkland.”
Cole added that nothing has changed in recent years for his coverage area.
“Has the school board become closer to Crime Stoppers since Parkland? Absolutely not,” Cole said.
However, Cole says she still has hope for this year’s conference.
“That means to me the public is going to become more aware… It means to me that we’re going to educate the public,” Cole said.
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. You can reach Tomas at [email protected] or 772-333-5501. Follow him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Law enforcement meets to discuss school safety, Anonymous reports