School board backs iWatch app for students

NAUGATUCK — Students with smart phones may soon be armed with another way to prevent and report bullying or crimes at school.

The Board of Education voted to accept the integration of the iWatch application into Naugatuck High School and City Hill Middle School at its regular meeting May 10.

The application, available for the iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones, allows users to submit anonymous tips in the form of phone calls, text messages, e-mails, photos or videos to borough agencies.

The school board’s Information Technology Director Alan Merly told the board the iWatch application will be customized for Naugatuck users.

This means that a user will have the option of downloading iWatch for the borough, City Hill Middle School, or Naugatuck High School.

If a student reported an incident using one of the iWatch programs designed for the school, the report would be sent to the school’s office as well as the police department. That way, the school and police could decide if it was a school issue or if it was an issue that required police intervention.

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved a one-year agreement with iThinQware, the company that produces the iWatch application, earlier this month.

Merly explained even though the application will be used around the borough, there was always the intention to bring it into the schools. He said that the kids may have access to information, such as weapons on school grounds and threats of violence, that they do not feel comfortable sharing in person or do not know who to share it with.

“It wasn’t just to have the community members tipping police; it was to bring it into the school system, at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels as well as the ninth- through 12th-grade levels,” Merly said.

Naugatuck police Lt. Robert Harrison told the board he felt this application would be a step in the right direction towards making sure the schools were safe. He said that students have access to a wide variety of technology, both in and out of school, and it is important that school officials make an effort to keep up with them.

“As a department and a borough, I think we need to try and keep up with these kids and at least meet them at their level and give them a comfortable and secure way to communicate to authorities and have it be truly anonymous,” Harrison said.

He felt the anonymity and ease of sending a text would especially benefit students when dealing with a bullying situation.

“I think kids don’t want to come forward, they don’t want be that one kid that has to stand up and say I’m a victim or I know of a victim, and this way they can put this information out there and see where we can go with it and deal with it before it becomes a crisis, before it becomes a tragedy,” Harrison said.

The board questioned whether this would actually be anonymous, since the text had to come from a cell phone number.

“The way this system works, tips go off site, to the actual iWatch team, it goes into a secure encrypted server. It’s encrypted when it’s forwarded to the police department. It’s also non-traceable, we can not get a subpoena,” Harrison said.

The police can try to chat with that person when the tip is sent in, but the person sending the tip is under no obligation to chat with the police.

Naugatuck High Principal Janice Saam said that she had originally questioned whether the students would use this to submit false reports. The reports that she has looked into have shown that this is not that case.

“The research I’ve seen coming back is saying no, that’s not the case. The students who do use it, use it for valid reasons and the information that’s gleaned is legitimate. I think the deterrent is that the students know whatever they are sending is also being copied to the police department,” Saam said.

Merly told the board that it wouldn’t be difficult to integrate the iWatch application into Naugatuck, since it has been used in tested in larger cities such as Bridgeport, Dallas, Duluth, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

“They are choosing to use it in different ways. The city of Los Angeles does not use it for police tips at all. They use is strictly for terrorism intelligence. Where as the city of Bridgeport uses for any possible tip that a person would like to send in,” Merly said.

He explained that the Bridgeport police, using iWatch, closed down a drug factory that was around the corner from the police academy.

The board raised concerns about how many tips might come in and if the police department had the staff to deal with all the reports from the application.

Harrison told the board he was not concerned about the amount of tips the police department would receive.

“We’re not a Bridgeport, we’re not huge here. I don’t expect to receive hundreds of tips. I would be happy with a few a day,” Harrison said.

Before the board could raise the question of price, Merly explained that the police department had made the town an offer already.

“The police department has offered to not only purchase this for the borough, but for school district as well, for the seventh- through 12th-grades,” Merly said. “It would be free for residents to download to any smart device … and it would be specific to Naugatuck.”

Merly told the board the police department hopes that putting this application in the hands of the students will foster a greater relationship between residents and police.

“We want the community to have a one-to-one relationship with the police department, whether it is personally or anonymously. Whatever they are comfortable with,” Merly said.

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