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Home for the Holidays? Celebrate Safely

Mark is thinking outside the box – that is, the 12-by-19 dining room where his family always gathers for Thanksgiving.

On a crisp fall day, he placed two small propane-powered outdoor heaters that he bought at a hardware store inside a tent and tested how it felt. His holiday plan is to set up a table on the patio, leave one or two of the tent’s four walls open and serve the feast in the fresh air.

“It feels pretty comfortable in there – I think this could work,” he said. “We’ll need some good luck weather-wise and everyone will need to be a good sport about the setup, but I won’t worry about my family’s safety.”

Mark is creatively trying to tackle one of the greatest risks families will face during the holidays. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a series of recommendations for Americans hosting or attending family gatherings and toward the top of the list is the danger of sitting in close quarters in a poorly ventilated room, talking, laughing and eating together.

As The New York Times observed, “Most office buildings, hospitals and restaurants have mechanical ventilation systems that pull outside air inside, push stale air outside and recirculate indoor air through filters. But homes typically don’t have those kinds of ventilation systems, and indoor air changes far more slowly as it leaks through small cracks or gaps around windows and doors. Many homes, in fact, are sealed up tight to make them more energy efficient.”

The CDC stresses that the safest way people can approach the holidays is to avoid gatherings altogether and simply celebrate with the people you live with. It’s advice that the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, will follow. In an interview with CBS News, Fauci said his children, who live in three different states, will not be coming over this year. “They themselves, because of their concern for me and my age, have decided they’re not going to come home for Thanksgiving — even though all three of them want very much to come home for Thanksgiving,” Fauci said.

Even with COVID-19 cases surging, millions of Americans, fatigued from eight months of social distancing and yearning for family time, will make the trip home. Ultimately, the decision comes down to how much risk each family is willing to take on. The following are some simple steps that experts say we can take to cut it down.

Air it Out

This is crucial for slowing a disease that’s primarily transmitted by air. If hosting outside is an option, do it. If the party must be held inside, take advantage of every available option to make sure the area is well ventilated. Choose a room that has windows and/or doors and open them widely. If it’s cold out, crank up the heat – the modest spike in the monthly gas bill is well worth it.

Keep it Short and Sweet

The longer the party and the larger the guest list, the greater the odds of transmission. Come up with a schedule for your gathering in advance and stick closely to it. That may mean eating right away when the guests arrive and moving on right after to dessert. Your home may be the focal point for big family gatherings in normal times, but these are not normal times. People will understand if you decide to keep the get-together to a few immediate family members this time around. If you’ve invited elderly family members or others who are considered at-risk, you have an obligation to protect them.

Know Your Guests

When you’re putting together the guest list, consider the specific circumstances of each potential invitee. Do they live somewhere that’s considered a COVID-19 hot spot or have they recently traveled to one? Are they taking the pandemic seriously and taking the proper precautions in their daily lives? As Dr. Brenda L. Tesini, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told USA Today, it’s not the time to “get together with a relative who has been quite vocal about not wearing a mask and not social distancing.” You can mitigate the risk if everyone agrees to quarantine for two weeks before the holiday. Anyone who is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms must absolutely stay home.

Food Safety

It will feel foreign, but Thanksgiving rituals like passing around the gravy need to go this year. Come up with a plan for your meal that does not involve a buffet setup, with multiple people touching the same dishes and utensils or breathing on the food. Also, the old adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen” meaning trouble has never been more true. It would be safer if one or two people could handle the cooking duties and make the plates for everyone. If guests can bring their own food this year, all the better.

Be a Smarty at the Party

Approach your gathering with the same mentality that you would when going into the office. Employ all of the provien social distancing tactics that have kept us safe in public places. If you’re indoors, wear a mask when you’re not eating or drinking. Stay at least six feet apart no matter where you are.

STOPit Solutions is doing its part to help communities protect themselves from the virus with its new SafeScreen COVID-19 Health Reporting System. Each day, SafeScreen sends students or workers an email or text requesting that they answer a series of questions guided by the CDC and National Institutes of Health through the system’s Health Screener. Once completed, the user instantly is informed if they are “clear to enter” or “do not enter.” If they are clear, they receive a color-coded “entry pass” to display as they enter school or work. If they receive a “do not enter” pass, then the system administrator is notified and reaches out, via our 2-way chat feature or phone, to assess the situation and provide next steps. The entire screening process takes less than a minute to complete each day.

We sincerely hope that by next Thanksgiving, none of the measures we discussed above will be necessary any longer and the threat of COVID-19 will be a memory. But until then, it’s up to all of us to do what we can to ensure that we and our loved ones will make it there to celebrate together. Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Independence Day: A Time to Reflect on Just How Much We Need Each Other.

Before placing his iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence in 1776, John Hancock turned to his fellow Continental Congress delegates and remarked, “There must be no pulling different ways. We must all hang together.”

“Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together,” Benjamin Franklin replied. “Or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

One of history’s great wits nested a profound point in his gallows humor: It takes unity and common purpose to stand up to a powerful aggressor. It’s as true of fighting the mighty British Army as it is a clique of cyberbullies, bigotry in the office, or sexual harassment by a superior at work.

As we celebrate our nation’s birth this weekend, let’s also consider how we can encourage those in our schools, workplaces and communities to “hang together” with victims of injustice and maltreatment. Sometimes, the weight of confronting their problems is too much to bear on their own.

“Look at the traditional motto of the United States, ‘E pluribus unum – Latin for ‘out of many, one’ — and how relevant its meaning is for us during these trying times,” said Melissa Straub, founder of High Impact Youth Training Solutions, which provides educational training and guidance on issues directly affecting youth, schools, and communities. “One person can truly make an impact and encourage, if not implement, positive change or momentum. One act of kindness, courage, empathy and standing up can change a person’s situation and perception in that moment.”

Anonymous reporting can be a powerful agent for such change. There are any number of reasons why a witness to bullying or harassment won’t stand up for the victim on the spot. Fear of retaliation, of being labeled a snitch, of getting involved in a dispute between strangers, these can all be potent deterrents. That doesn’t mean the witness doesn’t want to help. STOPit offers them a way to pass on important information to trusted authorities and make the situation better – without worrisome barriers.

“We all need to be part of the change, part of the solution and be accountable to each other’s wellbeing,” Straub said. “Reporting is a way to be heard, a voice not to fall on deaf ears, and has proven to make a difference.”

Such was the case when a student used STOPit to let her school know she was worried about a friend who was having problems at home, was cutting herself and sharing suicidal thoughts. The school received the report and informed law enforcement, who performed a health check on the student. It was determined that she needed help and she immediately began receiving counseling.

Of course, the mix of mental health issues combined with access to weapons has been a formula for repeated tragedy in the U.S. Many districts have adopted STOPit as an extra safety layer in their strategies to prevent school shootings. It may have already saved lives.

Recently a student riding the bus to school spotted a weapon in another student’s backpack. The alert rider submitted a report which was fielded by STOPit’s 24/7 Incident Monitoring Service professionals, who rapidly notified the district. School officials met the bus as it pulled in, escorted the student off and seized the weapon before it ever entered the school.

Police agencies are also using STOPit as means to enlist the eyes and ears of upstanders in their communities. Anonymous tips delivered with photo and video evidence have solved crimes in places like Camden, New Jersey – a city which gained national recognition during the George Floyd protests for improving relations between its police and citizenry to reduce crime.

“We’re going to try anything to reach out to the community to open those channels of communication,” Camden County Police Community Commander Lt. Zsakhiem James told FOX 29 about STOPit.

This Independence Day, let’s all take a moment to think about our interdependence. By standing up for each other, we not only help another person, we also protect and promote our own liberty and freedoms – doing our part to build a safer, more inclusive community for all.

Contact STOPit Solutions today to learn how anonymous reporting can encourage upstanders in your community, workplace or school.

Not Everyone Is #SafeAtHome. Domestic Abuse Calls Surge During Quarantine for COVID-19.

After a month in the grip of the COVID-19 crisis, America can so far take a small measure of solace in its crime statistics. Cities across the country are reporting significant drops in arrests, including the pandemic’s epicenter, New York, which reported a 20% decline in its five boroughs and transit system during the March 12-31 period that followed its state of emergency declaration. Chicago also reported a 23% plummet in major crime categories in the first week that followed its stay-at-home order. 

This is a logical trend in the short run — when 80 percent of society is self-quarantining in their homes, a drop in incidents such as drunk driving, theft and vandalism would be expected. But authorities worry that it’s only a matter of time before the unnatural pressures that COVID-19 is placing on society could begin carrying ramifications.

Already, police around the country are cracking down on hate crimes and threats against Asian Americans, who are being scapegoated due to the pandemic’s possible origin in China. Cyber crime, online bullying and predatory behavior are rising concerns, due in large part to the extra time young people are spending online. Price gouging has also been a problem, as items like sanitizers, cleaning supplies and surgical masks are at a premium. Neighborhood watch groups warn of an increase in car break-ins across the country. 

One of the most disturbing, recent trends, however is the increased number of domestic violence calls. The New York Times reports that in countries such as China and Spain, which suffered the full brunt of COVID-19 earlier than the U.S., data has emerged showing that hotlines were overwhelmed with reports of abuse. Now advocacy groups in America are sounding the alarm and asking for help protecting the victims. 

“It is possible that the increase we are seeing in domestic violence calls could be related to the coronavirus,” Geneva County, Alabama Sheriff Tony Helms told The Dothan Eagle. “People are out of work or working less, and more people are at home, and they have a lot on their minds and stress is taking a toll.”

Domestic disputes – a chronically underreported crime in normal times due to the pressures of reporting loved ones – could be extra dangerous at this moment. Because the coronavirus poses a safety issue for victims to even leave the house, they may feel added pressure to stay at home with their abusers or find it impossible to call the police without being overheard.

At times like these, anonymous reporting systems can save lives. STOPit Solutions’ anonymous reporting app, widely acclaimed for curbing bullying and harassment in schools, is being adopted by a growing number of law enforcement agencies as a crime-fighting tool. With an ultra-simple interface that looks and functions like an ordinary text message system, STOPit provides victims or witnesses of crimes a platform to quietly share information with police.

Once a tip is shared, police and senders can carry on a text conversation, with the app protecting the person’s identity. Anonymity is guaranteed – not even STOPit knows who the senders are. Just like with ordinary phone texts, senders can use the app to forward images and videos. That means the public has a round-the-clock back channel to deliver police concrete audio and visual evidence – the gold standard of prosecutions.

STOPit public safety partner, the Camden County (New Jersey) Police Department, registered 600 users and received 500 tips in its first two months. To show STOPit’s effectiveness and simplicity, Camden Police welcomed Philadelphia’s FOX 29 News into its Real Time Tactical Intelligence Center, where officers could view a list of tips on an electronic board.

“You can actually send us a picture so we can see exactly what you’re looking at instead of offering vague eyewitness descriptions, and you can text back and forth with an officer inside the app without them ever knowing who you are,”  Camden County Police Community Commander Lt. Zsakhiem James said. 

There are, of course, any number of reasons why someone would prefer to keep their identity quiet: Fear of reprisal, alienating family or friends, a lack of time, or even a lack of certainty (Did I just see what I thought I saw?). Technologies like STOPit are presenting new possibilities for citizens to share information with police without the fear of becoming entangled in the investigation.

Call STOPit today to learn more about how anonymous reporting can be implemented in your jurisdiction to improve the flow of information between the community and police.

Is Your Phone Summer Ready? It’s Time to Start Summer Hours for Your Mobile Device!

For millions of American workers, Memorial Day weekend not only ushered in the unofficial start of summer, but the official start of summer hours. According to the Washington Post, around 40 percent of American companies now offer some version of the summer Friday perk to keep power charges low and recharge workers’ mental batteries.

So how about setting summer hours for our mobile device use? If you’re like most Americans, you can use it.

A mounting body of research shows cell phone addiction is a pervasive problem that’s deteriorating our health in numerous ways – anxiety, depression, loss of sleep, even wrist and hand pains. We know we’re on them too much, yet we do it anyway.

Dr. Jenna Meyerberg, PhD, LPC, an authority on youth social and emotional development, has written extensively about how living in an age of instant communication and nearly unlimited access to information is having a significant, negative impact on people. STOPit Solutions recently had an opportunity to sit with Dr. Meyerberg and talk about electronics addiction on the STOPit Solutions Podcast. In addition to providing helpful suggestions for encouraging everyone to unplug and being more present in real life (aka “IRL”), she shares  evidence-based research proving that people who are more disciplined in their online habits have higher self-esteem and confidence than their tech-obsessed peers.

These statistics and trends may feel oppressive, but the fact is that we DO have control over our own behavior and there’s no better time for a break than now. The beaches are open, the sun is out until 8:30 at night, and the warm breeze smells like flowers, the neighbor’s barbecue and freshly cut grass. Go out and enjoy it! Read on for a few simple ways we can institute summer hours for our phones and tablets.

 

Make a Plan and Apply It

A good way to start is to diagnose the ailment and set your cure. Both Apple and Google now have apps (Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, respectively) that can tell you how much time you’re spending on your devices, with breakdowns by specific apps and categories.

Those who haven’t checked their stats before may be in for a shock. Studies have suggested that Americans check their phones once every 12 minutes – or roughly 80 times per day – and spend about four hours on them daily. Thankfully, Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing can be programmed to enforce time limits for your apps and lock them if you’ve crossed the line.

Take a look at your averages, come up with realistic goals for curbing your time and use these apps to hold you to them. Can you cut your app use by an hour per day? Two? Take the challenge!

No-Go Times

The dinner table used to be a family’s impenetrable bubble from the world. Kids told mom and dad what they learned in school and there were no interruptions allowed from the TV or ringing phones. Now everyone at the table is glued to Twitter and video games while they chew.

We can all make a meaningful dent in our gadget use by declaring them off-limits at times when good manners dictate they should be off anyway. Set a rule that they’re not allowed in the same room as the dinner table. Apply the same standards to times that are meant to be about family and friends – summer vacation trips, graduation parties, the annual golf outing. You can never get those moments back.

And if you’re out for a meal with friends, encourage everyone to pile them in the center of the table with the sound off. First person to give in picks up the check!

Be a Cellular Role Model

If you want to make summer hours stick with your kids, do as you say and say as you do. Like just about anything with parenting, it’s easy to dictate a bunch of rules and quite another thing to enforce them. If you lecture your kids about a bad behavior and then model it in front of them, they won’t take the lesson seriously or follow it.

If you lay down a “no Kindle before summer camp” rule, don’t let them see you glued to Facebook over your morning coffee. Show them it can be done.

Think about ways you can make summer hours a family affair. If everyone in your house is a part of the challenge, you can hold each other accountable and set up fun prizes for those who reach their goals.

And who knows — once summer hours are over and schools are back in session, maybe some of these healthy, new habits will stick. To paraphrase an old saying, “An app less per day keeps the doctor away.”

Into Action

Download our tip sheet and hang it on the refrigerator and home and work — or pass it along to a friend who you can recruit to take the challenge with you.

For extra satisfaction, write down what you did during the hour (or two) you reclaimed each day. Did you get an extra hour of sleep? Take the time to cook your favorite meal? Walk the dog on a new trail or have that family movie night you keep talking about? Let’s work together to live healthier, happier lives — right now! 

WeTip Anonymous Reporting Empowers Citizens to Thwart Welfare Fraud

Image courtesy of GotCredit on Flickr

As citizens of the wealthiest nation on earth, Americans are committed to providing a social safety net for friends, neighbors and even strangers who are going through tough times. But they have little patience for people who take advantage of their generosity, and those who cross that line risk paying a price.

Dating back to the legislative initiatives of the New Deal and the Great Society, America has had a suite of welfare programs in place, from unemployment insurance to food stamps, to help people meet their basic needs. Although the screening process for this aid is rigorous, a small percentage of cheaters do manage to game the system. Those who are caught often make the wrong kind of headlines, fueling outrage that places political support for the programs – and the honest taxpayers who rely on them – in jeopardy.

It’s impossible to say how widespread welfare fraud really is in the U.S. Studies have pegged the percentage of recipients cheating by one means or another as low as the low single digits to as high as one-third to half. What no one disputes, though, is that rooting out cheaters is costly and difficult.

The manpower required to monitor welfare is expensive and staffing levels are stretched too thin to put every application under a microscope. As a result, states are increasingly turning to taxpayers to help police the system with anonymous tip lines.

STOPit’s partner WeTip is an industry leader in welfare fraud reporting, having served the nation with anonymous tip programs for nearly 50 years. Since 2006, WeTip has received over 29,000 anonymous tips regarding welfare fraud, leading to thousands of convictions, according to company CEO Sue Aguilar. In Los Angeles County alone, the WeTip Welfare Fraud Program thwarted hundreds of scams in its first five years, saving taxpayers over $18 million, she said.

“More people than ever are reaching out and turning in someone they suspect of welfare fraud,” Aguilar said. “The WeTip Program is successfully attacking welfare fraud one case at a time.”

All allegations are assigned to a special investigations unit to assess their veracity. Those who are found to be in violation can face penalties from mandatory restitution payments to jail time. Often, citizens reaching out to report fraud will share other information of interest to law enforcement.

One key to WeTips success is that their operators are trained to route tips appropriately and send to associated agencies when needed. A fraud call may uncover other issues in the community as these fraud cases can be complex. “Many, many times, the WeTip informant will give additional information regarding child and elder abuse. Those tips are also relayed to child and adult protective services,” Aguilar said.

For information on implementing an anonymous welfare fraud reporting program in your community, call WeTip at (909) 987-5005 ext. 230. Live operators staff the phones 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. WeTip has no taping, tracing or caller ID. Contact WeTip if your community or service would like to add a tip line.

Safe and Sound: Hospitality and Travel Industries Empowering Employees

At hotels across the world, the front desk clerk asks questions to make sure that their guests’ stay is up to par. And on flights that crisscross the sky, the flight attendant walks around the cabin making small talk to make sure everyone on the flight is comfortable. But these dedicated staff are not just providing excellent customer service. The reality is that these hospitality and travel industry employees are on the front lines of ensuring public safety. And with the right questions, these well-trained staff members might uncover information that is anything but routine.

Through new programs and initiatives, airlines and hotels are taking proactive security measures and giving their employees the tools and training to help identify and report safety issues. By training staff to recognize and report suspicious behaviors and activity to the appropriate authorities, travel and hospitality companies can help make a difference in the communities they serve and possibly save lives. Utilizing mobile reporting options like the STOPit mobile app is one way that hospitality industry leaders can begin making this important difference in the lives of their employees and guests.

Law Enforcement Partners

When law enforcement knows that hotel and travel companies are their partners on public safety issues, a collaborative and productive relationship can grow. That relationship improves the community and helps victims–and limits liability for hospitality industry employees, owners, and brands.

Protecting guests and employees can also help protect–and even strengthen–a business’ reputation. By teaching staff how to identify and report issues, businesses can identify warning signals, mitigate risk, and even deter crime. It’s not just due diligence: ensuring that staff across all fronts are trained to identify and report key indicators is critical for success. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there need to be different instructions for different roles since the signs a front desk clerk needs to be alert of may be different from that of a housekeeper or a parking lot attendant. Homeland Security offers a training toolkit available in both English and Spanish.

Employee Safety

In September 2018, in a show of unity in the competitive hotelier industry, Hilton, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, IHG, Marriott International, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) announced the 5-Star Promise, their commitment to advancing employee and guest safety on their properties. AHLA members have committed to implementing better policies, training, and resources aimed at improving hotel worker and guest safety. One of the key goals of the 5-Star Promise is to provide all U.S. hotel employees with employee safety devices, also called portable panic buttons, by 2020. Participating hotels will have a wide range of options to choose from, including noise-emitting features and emergency GPS tracking available at the push of a button.

Tackling Human Trafficking

Assuring guest privacy is an important priority for the hospitality and travel industries. But human traffickers can take advantage of that privacy, especially when staff are not trained to recognize and report the signs of exploitation. And while high-profile events like next month’s Super Bowl can create a climate that traffickers exploit according to anti-trafficking organizations, the reality is that human trafficking is an everyday problem.

But experts say progress is being made, especially with help from hospitality industry leaders. As National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month comes to a close, many companies have made new commitments to combat human trafficking.

Last year Delta Air Lines launched a human trafficking training initiative for the airlines’ employees. Now 56,000 of those employees have been trained to watch for signs of human trafficking on flights or in airports around the world, and how to report concerns to the Delta operations center. The center then passes the information on, ensuring that there are multiple layers of checks and balances in the process.

And as part of their global commitment to safety and human rights, Marriott International launched its human trafficking awareness training program in January 2017. Marriott announced earlier this month that it has successfully trained 500,000 staff members on how to identify and respond to human trafficking in its hotels.

“By educating and empowering our global workforce to say something if they see something, we are not just standing up for the most vulnerable in society, we are also protecting associates and guests as well as living up to a core company value — serving our world,” Arne Sorenson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International said in a statement.

Every employee in the hospitality industry can make a difference: the more hotel and travel companies become involved in training their staff to identify and respond to safety concerns, the harder it will be for crime to go unnoticed and unreported.

The STOPit mobile app is a simple, fast and powerful tool that empowers individuals to protect themselves and others. The platform also includes a robust incident management system, which enables administrators and management to get in front of issues, mitigate risk, and adhere to the always changing world of compliance.

Human Trafficking Knows No Boundaries, From Suburbia To The Inner City, The Problem is Growing but You Can Help

For many, the term “human trafficking” conjures images of ‘someone else’s’ neighborhood, where extreme poverty and violence are rampant and human rights are devalued, or ignored outright. But, as the FBI notes, the third-largest criminal activity in the world knows no boundaries and no demographic restrictions.

“Human trafficking is referred to as a crime that’s hidden in plain sight,” said Jamie Walton, president of the Wayne Foundation, an advocacy and crisis help organization for female victims of human trafficking that operates a nonprofit drop-in shelter in Florida. “It’s not just one type of human trafficking, and it’s not just happening in big cities. It’s happening everywhere.”

Especially in the digital age. The Internet has become a pipeline for predators to coerce, fraud and/or force young people into sex trades and labor arrangements that are tantamount to slavery. In America, it often starts when a vulnerable teen meets a ‘friend’ in a chat room. This ‘friend’ may come off charming and dangle something that’s financially out of reach – access to a nice house, fancy cars, drugs. Other times, they promise to fill a void in the youth’s life through something as simple as companionship. These online ‘relationships’ too often lead to the young person become victimized in real life.

Human Trafficking May Be Pervasive, But Public Awareness and Action Are Making A Difference

Federal data collected through a national reporting hotline offers valuable insight into the scope of the problem in the U.S. This data reveals:

  • The crisis is growing. In 2017, there were 8,524 reports of human trafficking. This number has increased each year since 2012, when there were 3,272 reports.
  • Victims are predominantly female (7,067) but include significant numbers of males (1,124) and gender minorities (80). Roughly 30 percent (2,495) were minors.
  • Sex trafficking was by far the most common type reported (6,081), followed by labor (1,249) and various other forms (1,194). The top venues for sex trafficking were illicit massage/spa businesses (714), hotel/motel-based (613) and online ads (519).

In fact, Walton says the majority of children are being trafficked while parents are away on vacation, away on business trips — even between getting out of school and parents getting home from an ordinary work day.

“Kidnapping is a real threat, but it’s not always this worst case scenario we need to pay attention to,” said Walton. “Too often, these children are being trafficked right in their own neighborhoods and they’re too scared and ashamed to ask for help. Local law enforcement is better trained and better equipped than ever to handle these cases, but they can be even more effective if we, ordinary citizens, are working with them to help identify threats and if we report them.”

Citizen Action Matters: Teaming Up With Law Enforcement to Stop Human Trafficking in Your Town

If you believe someone you know or have encountered could be a victim of human trafficking, it is critical that you alert the authorities right away.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides support for US citizens who are witnesses to — or victims of — human trafficking. The agency funds the National Human Trafficking Hotline, where people can reach out for help or report their suspicions about human trafficking activity 356 days a year, 24 hours a day.

Additionally, anonymous reporting options like the STOPit mobile app or WeTip both offer a safe, easy way to share information that could save lives and restore young people to their homes. Communities across the US are subscribing to these services as a way for citizens to report incidents to law enforcement. With both of these tools, the person reporting is also kept safe through guaranteed anonymity.

In more and more neighborhoods across the country, citizens, like those who brought STOPit to their Bloomfield, New Mexico community, are successfully working with law enforcement and public safety officers to stop crime and provide valuable assistance to help make victims whole.

“The best thing people can do is reach out — to report suspicious activity and protect someone you know, or to ask for help if you’re the victim,” Walton said. “We are working with our community law enforcement agencies every single day to more quickly identify these cases and take positive action to stop trafficking and get victims the help they need.”

For more information about how public safety officials and citizens in local communities are using anonymous reporting to increase safety and security in their neighborhoods, call now and speak with one of our experts in community safety.

Help for Victims of Trafficking

In light of the significant domestic threat, the US has proclaimed each January since 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Department of Homeland Security sponsors its Blue Campaign, which offers training to law enforcement and key industries to increase detection of human trafficking, protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline provides assistance to victims in crisis through safety planning, emotional support, and connections to local resources. Calls are confidential, toll-free and available 24/7.
CALL: (888) 373-7888
TEXT: HELP to BEFREE (233733)
EMAIL: help@humantraffickinghotline.org
ONLINE: www.humantraffickinghotline.org

Indicators of Human Trafficking

The following are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Goodwill and Peace of Mind in New Mexico: How Public Safety Leaders Partnered with Citizens to Give The Gift of a Safer Community

This holiday season, Bloomfield, New Mexico is proving why it’s known as “the little city with a big heart.”

Home to nearly 8,000 people, Bloomfield has long been admired for its rich history and community spirit. Considered the heart of the four corners and gateway to the internationally recognized Quality Waters just below Navajo Dam, it’s also a destination for people who want to visit its national treasures, including Mesa Verde National Park, Salmon Ruins, Aztec Ruins, and Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

And, true to its character, its residents and public servants also have a notable history of being proactive when it comes to identifying and implementing innovative, pragmatic solutions to promote the health and welfare of the people who live and work within its city limits.

So it’s no surprise that Bloomfield is one of the first municipalities in New Mexico to adopt mobile technology as part of a strategy to safeguard its residents and businesses.

No Time Like the Present

Then

It was a typical evening in August, warm and dry, but this was no typical meeting of the Bloomfield, NM Neighborhood Watch. Packed into the meeting room, residents and business owners gathered to talk about something they’d been waiting for for a long time — a restart to the Neighborhood Watch program.

Of all the things that distinguish Bloomfield, the city certainly is not remarkable for a higher-than-average crime rate — but citizens weren’t content to sit back and ‘hope for the best’ going forward. They and their public safety officials were determined to be proactive and take positive steps to promote even greater security and safety.

That evening, in addition to the traditional, tried and true tactics of citizen watch programs, Interim Chief Randon Matthews introduced a brand new tool for those in attendance to consider; a mobile reporting app — available right on their phones — giving everyone the power to report suspicious activity, capture photographic and video evidence if possible, and send it directly to their district officer representative for immediate action. And the best part — citizens could remain completely anonymous if they chose to, making it safe to report and easy to be involved.

When the demo wrapped up, the energy and excitement was palpable — nearly everyone agreed that Bloomfield needed this tool — and sooner than later.

So, rather than wait and advocate for the cost of launching the reporting app to be added into the next budget, two residents, Debbi Vavra and Lisa Webb of Guild Mortgage, offered to underwrite the immediate purchase of the tool.

STOPit was rolled out in a soft-launch to Bloomfield residents later that month.

Now

Since officially launching STOPit in October, Bloomfield has already started seeing impressive results.

In addition to a foiled kidnapping, the recovery and return of multiple stolen cars, as well as several high-profile felony arrests for drug related offenses — citizens are using the STOPit app every day to help their law enforcement partners to stop crime and help preserve law and order.

Citizens are excited that they have such a powerful tool to connect with their neighborhood law enforcement partners. When someone sees an issue — anything from a suspicious person, to suspected animal abuse — they can easily, safely gather evidence and anonymously share that information with police to help confront and address threats.

Another significant benefit of the reporting app is that law enforcement is feeling more and more connected with those they serve — and trusted. They’re reporting text conversations with people on the other end that show citizens appreciate knowing that they’re getting real-time responses from the police department. The community is excited to be able to assist police officers.

A Two Way Street: Communication Helps People Be Vigilant and Stay Safe

At about the same time Bloomfield began investigating options for providing an anonymous reporting tool to empower their community, the Little City With a Big Heart, also re-dedicated itself to build a robust social media presence. “Our Interim Chief, Randon Matthews, feels strongly that an active, proactive social media presence is an important part of the conversation we need to be sharing with our residents, business owners and wider community,” said Suzanne Moore, Administrative Supervisor for the Bloomfield New Mexico Police Department. “One of the many things we love about the STOPit app is that it allows us to reach out to our residents and community with tips and alerts to help us all stay better connected and safer. This is a great complement to our social media campaigns.”

Visit them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and you’ll see plenty of positive messages, like the one to “Remember your #9pmroutine,” — messages that promote public safety and remind us of good, old common sense ways to keep ourselves and our neighborhoods strong and safe.

“Especially during the winter holidays, we are more likely let the stresses of the season distract us from our usual vigilance — giving would-be thieves and other bad actors more opportunity to do damage and inflict harm,” cautions Moore.

Follow these tips from the Bloomfield PD to enjoy a safer, happier holiday season.

For information about bringing the STOPit Solution to your community, call now and speak with one of our public safety solutions experts.

10 Reasons Why You Should Support WeTip, the Crime Stopping, Anonymous Tip Service This Holiday Season

The holiday season is an emotional time for many of us, with to-do lists a mile long, and a cascade of different calls to action: Have a happy holiday! Give them them the gifts they’ll cherish! Make memories to last a lifetime! Give generously and help share peace and goodwill for all!

Yes, to all of these. As far as that last encouragement, when you’re considering your list of worthwhile causes to celebrate with a special gift, please keep WeTip at the top of that list.

WeTip: 47 Years of Unrivaled Service to Help Us Create Safer Communities

WeTip is one of the best resources in America for regular citizens to prevent and report crime. It is a toll-free, nationwide, 24/7/365 anonymous hotline and website committed to providing the most effective crime alerting system in the nation.

Once the caller has been assured anonymity, the operator takes them through a series of up to 65 questions, developed through the aid of law enforcement to elicit as much information as possible. Oftentimes the caller has more helpful information than they even realize. WeTip has become an essential service for crime-stoppers and a vital resource for law enforcement.

Founded in 1972 by a retired San Bernadino county sheriff who envisioned a better way for everyday citizens to report crimes, he understood the value of a service that was truly anonymous. Now 46 years later, boasting over 1,336,138 crimes reported, 16,391 arrests, a phenomenal 8,396 convictions, and NOT ONE informant ever revealed – the success and longevity of WeTip is proof that when good people are brave, motivated, and get involved, they can make a difference!

While completely independent from the police, WeTip has become an invaluable source of intelligence and information to local, regional, national, and even international law enforcement. They relay all tip information to every appropriate agency that may be able to help with a crime; whether that be the local area precinct detectives, Department of Child and Family Services, housing authorities, school administrators, corporations, animal protection, forest service, private agencies, or whatever the individual situation calls for. They don’t rest until the situation is being investigated from every angle, and taken seriously. This tremendously successful program has dramatically impacted unsolved crimes, and has significantly reduced crime incidents in communities and schools nationwide.

Here are 10 Reasons Why Your Donation to WeTip Matters.

    1. WeTip is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that has relied on donations from people like you to keep their hotline running for over 46 years–and the results are astounding. More than ONE MILLION crimes have been reported resulting in nearly 9,000 convictions — that’s how citizen-supported, citizen action works.But while WeTip is a nationwide service, they receive no federal funding. You can donate with confidence knowing that your funds are not being handled by a middle man, but all support goes directly into this secure, established resource that is protecting communities, children, the elderly, animals, and the environment.
    2. In 2007, WeTip updated its service to include taking anonymous tips online in addition to the telephone hotline. The online method of reporting has been extremely effective, but is an additional expense of equipment and utilities. Your donation will help cover those bills.
    3. Your donation directly impacts America’s youth: WeTip is combating bullying and terror on the front lines in our schools. This year alone, WeTip has received over 90 reports of bullying, and aided in the prevention of school attacks. When school districts partner with WeTip, it does more than just empower individuals with information to speak up – it is also a powerful deterrent. It causes someone to think twice before engaging in unacceptable conduct. In fact, schools that use WeTip find that the service discourages harmful or inappropriate behavior from happening in the first place. The deterrent factor resulted in a decrease in crime in one of WeTip’s school districts by an astounding 90%.
Tips Received To Date
  1. Animals cannot speak up when they are being neglected, hoarded or abused, so thankfully WeTip is ready to answer the call when a good samaritan blows the whistle on a situation where animals are being harmed. WeTip works closely with the appropriate rescue organizations to get the animals to safety and hold the abusers accountable. Animal lovers nationwide understand how important this work is, and every donation helps save these innocent lives.
  2. One of the areas that WeTip has been the most successful is the war on drugs. Approximately 75% of the tips the hotline receives are drug related. Over $340,000,000 in drugs and $6,875,000 in cash has been seized because of WeTip information, and they have intervened in countless threatening and dangerous situations.The numbers show the impressive impact the WeTip solution is having on breaking down the dangerous code of silence. The dramatic increases in the number of tips received each year demonstrates the change in culture and attitudes about reporting unsafe behaviors and situations. Donating to this important work directly affects communities in need, and innocent children who are exposed to this culture.
  3. The best technology for the best results: WeTip leverages mission-critical tech tools to deliver results and stay effective. WeTip’s success as a national resource depends on the ability to be available 24/7 – 356 days a year and to deliver on its promise of anonymity when citizens do report crime tips. For 47 years, WeTip has devoted a significant share of its resources to its tipline and reporting systems.In 2019, the number one operational need is an upgrade to their digital infrastructure.This upgrade will insure that individuals and communities continue to have access to this invaluable service while delivering on WeTip’s promise of anonymity for tipsters.

    ANONYMOUS: And this is important — WeTip is truly anonymous, not just “confidential”. What’s the difference? Confidential means that someone knows your name and promises not to tell, until they are subpoenaed. Anonymous means that nobody knows who you are and there is absolutely no way to find out. WeTip has no taping, tracing or caller ID. They have no way of knowing who the caller is.

  4. There are rewards for getting involved and doing the right thing. Every tipster is offered the opportunity to receive a reward up to $1000 (with some higher rewards offered in specific instances) for information leading to arrest and conviction. These rewards are paid through WeTip’s anonymous and unique reward payment system.This is the only program of its kind in the nation, and honors the fact that though many people will choose to remain anonymous for their own reasons, when people can and do come forward, they deserve recognition for taking positive action. In fact, the rewards program is extremely effective in encouraging otherwise hesitant folks to make that call, and the rewards — more than $1M and counting — are only made possible by donated funds.
  5. WeTip has specialized Native American Reservations Services, offering a safe, highly valued opportunity for members of these communities to protect themselves and others from devastating crime and victimization. Services include: education regarding Tribal security, school security, community health, and the dangers involved in drug and gang activity; domestic violence; drug endangered children; threats and actual violence; property destruction; elder abuse; truancy and underage drinking. WeTip is also utilized by visitors to reservation casinos who have information about illegal activities like fraud, robbery, burglary, malicious mischief, threats, violence and drug activity. Your donation will help WeTip provide brochures, stickers, flyers, posters, magnets and parking lot signs, all designed to maintain a visual presence of the hotline phone number.
  6. Knowledge is power. WeTip is only helping if people know to use it. Your donation to WeTip not only helps to keep their day-to-day operations possible, but it also helps with the communications, public relations and marketing efforts — all necessary to increase public awareness of the hotline and ensure that everyone who needs WeTip knows about WeTIp, and how to take safe, positive action against criminals and other threats to health and wellbeing.
  7. A donation to WeTip is a gift that keeps on giving all year round, especially if your gift is in memory of someone special.During this holiday season, often times those feelings of peace and goodwill are lost among the pressures of buying material presents.

This year, consider a gift that is guaranteed to make a difference now and into the future. And if you have a loved on that has been affected or lost because of unsolved crime and violence, a gift in their honor is a lasting tribute to their memory and a hopeful action taken in their name for a better future.

Please join us today and help us create safer communities across the US.

You can help and make a difference by donating, and by spreading awareness about this valuable service to friends and family. One call can make a difference and may save a life, solve a cold case, or prevent a crime from happening in the first place.

We live in an era where we no longer have the luxury of looking the other way, or expecting someone else to be responsible and do the right thing, so “If you see something, say something” by calling WeTip’s Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME.

WeTip has been making a difference for 46 years, and with your help, will continue to grow and serve even more communities.

Make your donation online. For more information about the impact of citizen action through WeTip, visit the website.

Modern Policing Uses Tech Tools To Catch Tech Savvy Child Predators

There are times when a popular technology advances too fast for the legal system to keep up. It happened a few years ago when sales of remote-control drones raised privacy concerns and posed deadly hazards for aircraft. More recently, lawmakers and transportation authorities have struggled to cope with the introduction of self-driving cars on our roadways.

In 1997, it was America Online. According to the U.S. Census, only 18 percent of American households had Internet access that year, but the number was rising at an explosive pace. At the dawn of the Internet age, AOL dominated the U.S. market. It didn’t just offer Internet plans and email accounts, it offered an experience – fun games, online chat rooms and the revolutionary Instant Messenger app.

The appeal was largely generational. Young Americans embraced their new electronic communication options and spurned traditional hand-written letters and phone calls. Many parents initially shied away from the change and ceded cyberspace to the kids.

Unfortunately, child predators didn’t do the same. Where predatory behavior once seemed like a rarity – cases like the disappearances of Adam Walsh in 1981 and Etan Patz, the original milk carton portrait, in 1979 captivated the nation — the Internet made it a widespread crisis overnight. The formerly ultra-high risk process of trying to build trust with victims over time at the park or follow them around the neighborhood in a van, was no longer necessary. Predators could now simultaneously carry on conversations with dozens of kids in the safe confines of their homes, all while pretending to be someone else.

Rich Wistocki knows all too well. As a detective in the Naperville (Illinois) Police Department just outside of Chicago, he recalled his first Internet sex crime case in 1997. A 14-year-old girl was contacted through AOL by a man from Tennessee. He drove up north and abducted her from her home.

For a suburban police department with little experience dealing with cyber crimes, the case raised complicated questions. How do you find someone when all you have to go on is a bogus screen name? How does a local police department pursue a suspect who could be living anywhere in the country?

They devised a plan that turned to technology to combat the technology.

“My partner Mike Sullivan, who was formerly of the [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration], suggested taking over her account and posing as her, like a drug case,” Wistocki recalled. “The guy did it again, and a month later they arrested him.”

The Struggle to Stay Ahead of the Curve

Now retired from police work, Wistocki is the owner of Be Sure Consulting, which trains law enforcement, educators and students to respond to cyber threats. He has also been an effective advocate in the legal war against cybercrimes, having authored Illinois’ anti-teen sexting law and sexual exploitation of a child law.

Sadly, Wistocki’s career didn’t coincide with a decline in cyber crimes against children. As technology became more sophisticated, so did predators. Today, we have more reason than ever to be vigilant, and work to employ better solutions to this very serious threat faced by every child with access to the internet. Recent studies reveal that:

  • An estimated 39 million American adults and 3 million children have been victims of sexual abuse.
  • Nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults occur against children ages 17 and under.
  • Approximately 1 in 7 youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations. One in 25 received an online sexual solicitation in which the solicitor tried to make offline contact.
  • Survivors of sexual abuse are 10 to 13 times more likely to attempt suicide.

Although police have come a long way in investigating cyber crimes, Wistocki says they are sometimes held back by a reflexive resistance to changing protocols and sharing information. Local departments also suffer from a lack of resources to handle online crimes.

“Computers, flip phones, smart phones, apps — law enforcement is typically about 10 years behind new technology when it comes to training how to tackle the problems,” he said. “There’s no budget to train cops. … Law enforcement needs to catch up.”

The issue is sometimes exposed in delicate cases like when a teenage girl’s revealing selfie winds up in the wrong hands and gets forwarded around to humiliate the victim. Local authorities are often hobbled by outdated protocols such as referring the report to a state or federal agency, or, because of a lack of a clear timeline and other corroborating evidence, feel compelled to let the case drop.

Once again, Wistocki is turning to technology as part of the solution. At a recent conference, he was introduced to the STOPit anonymous reporting app and saw its promise for opening the lines of communication with a famously difficult group to reach — students. Since then, he has helped spread the word to school resource officers at universities and K-12 districts.

Once STOPit takes root, it can be a pipeline of information from young people who might otherwise feel too embarrassed or scared to approach school personnel in person. While anonymous reports don’t always solve a case or even pan out, they are a piece of information that can be considered and investigated like any other, and perhaps turn a cold case warm.

More Resources

The following are additional resources with information about keeping children safe online:

Find out more about how STOPit solutions can help reduce risk, discourage bad behavior and provide evidence to help catch those who act abusively. Click below to contact us and find out more.

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