School threat system: First-month numbers show the necessity

Pennsylvania is the first state to implement a school threat reporting program that also includes training schools, students, 911 operators and a team that fields calls in the state attorney general’s office to properly respond to calls. In the first month of the program, the system received 4,900 tips and a third of them were serious enough to pass along to local police and school officials.

That number would seem to underline the need for the program, whose prime backer was Sen. Scott Martin, a Lancaster County Republican.

The tips have included suicide threats and situations where students may have hurt others without intervention. Other common subjects of calls included harassment, bullying and mental health issues. The program is exempt from the state’s open records laws and guarantees confidentiality, although criminal defendants and prosecutors can request records of tips, leaving that decision up to judges who review the record in private.

That seems to be the proper balance between the need for tips and making sure public information tenets are met. The false report total under the Safe 2 Say Something program is currently running at less than 1 percent, roughly the same frequency as the national average for such school threat reporting systems. And, it’s worth noting, a false report under the program is a misdemeanor criminal offense, which seems to assure the system is not recklessly used.

Lawmakers should closely monitor the system – which includes eight analysts and two supervisors – to make sure it does not balloon into an unwieldy bureaucracy. But it’s increasingly clear that local school districts cannot handle the volume of threat calls they get without some help.

The mission is correct. Refinement to make sure the program does what it’s supposed to do – prevent tragedies – is the future watchword.