Someone recently spotted an unfamiliar car behind Elkhorn Area High School.
The person anonymously reported it to police. Elkhorn police officer Joseph Kirkpatrick, the school’s longtime resource officer, checked out the tip and determined it was nothing suspicious.
But in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, local law enforcement has this urgent message for students: “If you see something, say something.”
Walworth County sheriff’s Deputy Dan Nelson acknowledges that it might be uncomfortable for students to call police about people they know. That’s why Nelson is on a mission to raise awareness about P3 Tips, an app and website where students—and anyone else—can send tips to police anonymously.
“It was nothing,” Nelson said of the car. “But it was one of those where if that person didn’t say anything and then we find out something happened and that car was related? That’s the information we need.”
P3 Tips is available through the App Store and Google Play as well as online. It has all Walworth County communities in its search feature.
Elkhorn Area High School was the first school in Walworth County to promote P3 Tips. School officials started pushing the app’s use Jan. 10 with an assembly and training, Nelson said. They also downloaded P3 Tips to the school’s Chromebooks and posted fliers throughout the building.
Nelson, the coordinator of Walworth County Crime Stoppers, recently was honored as the sheriff’s office’s deputy of the year. He hopes to have every Walworth County school district promoting P3 Tips by the end of March.
Badger High School in Lake Geneva and Big Foot High School in Walworth recently have put up posters, he said.
Police have received four tips related to Elkhorn Area High School since last month, Nelson said. Two of the four resulted in payouts, which means they were useful to police.
Tips are seen 24 hours per day because they are automatically sent to multiple people, including the sergeant on duty at the sheriff’s office, Nelson said.
Some tips from students include reports of graffiti, underage alcohol consumption or drug use, Nelson said.
Kirkpatrick in Elkhorn also gets the tips.
The Elkhorn district has made other efforts to improve security using referendum funding. Using P3 Tips doesn’t cost the school district anything, Kirkpatrick said.
He pointed out that students can use P3 Tips from anywhere, including if they are at home and see something suspicious on social media.
Nelson has worked closely with Janesville police officer Chad Sullivan, who got all Rock County school districts to promote the app.
Before P3 Tips, Sullivan said police received about 100 tips a year. Now they get that many in a month.
Sullivan and Nelson said the anonymity factor helps with tips about sensitive subjects, such as mental health. Sullivan said police have prevented suicides thanks to the tips they receive.
During an interview with The Gazette, Sullivan’s phone binged. He had received a drug tip through the app.
“There isn’t a school district, police department, a community in the world that shouldn’t have the technology that we have here in Rock County,” Sullivan said.
Kirkpatrick said he hears sometimes from people who preface their statements with, “I don’t mean to bother you.”
Law enforcement officials said they don’t want people to avoid reporting something because they aren’t sure if it involves criminal behavior.
“We’ll look into it. And if it’s nothing, great, we all win,” Nelson said. “But if it’s something, and we can prevent something, that’s the goal of this whole program.”
Any tip can prevent tragedy, Sullivan said.
“We may have already prevented a school shooting,” he said. “But I can tell you this: What happened in Florida can happen here tomorrow.”