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Student safety app not linked to East End police departments

Seven months ago, Suffolk County officials pledged $2 million toward new safety measures for public and private schools countywide.

The bond funded licensing fees for school districts to install the RAVE Panic Button, a mobile smartphone application that allows users to instantly notify law enforcement of emergency situations, such as an active shooter, at schools.

But if an emergency situation were to arise in any of the five East End towns, most district officials would still dial 911.

The initial implementation of the RAVE Panic Button program ignored issues of incompatibility with and lack of connections to local police departments, rendering it all but useless for the five towns’ school districts.

Currently, if an East End school administrator were to push the panic button, a distress call would be sent to the Suffolk County Police Department dispatch center in Yaphank.

According to county officials, the panic button call is also routed to local dispatch centers, but without the technology in place, local law enforcement is unable to view details that the app provides, such as the location within the school the call is coming from.

“That would only add more time” to the response, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said in an interview last week.

“Once [local departments] are able to invest in the technology, that’s when they will be able to fully realize the benefits,” of the app, a County spokesperson said.

Chief Hegermiller also expressed concern about costs associated with installing the software at each of Riverhead’s dispatch locations, formally referred to as Public Safety Answering Points.

He said last week that the department would have to pay $5,000 to install the RAVE software at each PSAP, which could raise startup costs to $25,000. Other fees, the chief said, would have to be paid annually.

He and other East End police chiefs have met with county officials to find a solution.

“I think it was a bit of an oversight,” Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming acknowledged after meeting with local law enforcement entities earlier this month.

At the meeting, Chief Steven Skrynecki of Southampton pointed out a potential solution offered by the RAVE app’s manufacturer, which would automatically redirect the call to local law enforcement for an undisclosed additional cost, which neither he nor Ms. Fleming could estimate.

A spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said county personnel met with representatives from all East End Public Safety Answering Points to address concerns over implementation of the RAVE Panic button.

“Suffolk County continues to have an active and open dialogue with our East End partners and is committed to ensuring the success of this app in school districts across the county,” the spokesperson said.

Chief Skrynecki said the amount would vary based on each police department’s number of dispatch terminals and on how many local school districts sign up for the service. The districts themselves would receive the service at no cost.

Ms. Fleming declined to give specifics about which East End school districts have signed up to date, offering only that “no one has said that they specifically don’t want to participate.”

Officials from the Riverhead Central School District declined to comment, but confirmed that the technology is in place in its schools.

During an interview with the News-Review at the start of this year, Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez outlined several safety measures the district is taking.

“This year the district and the town partnered to provide us with our full-time school resource officer, Byron Perez,” she said. In addition, she said, the Board of Education authorized hiring 10 additional security guards, who are all trained in the Stop the Bleed program from Peconic Bay Medical Center.

“The district, Riverhead Town and Riverhead police are working together to roll out the RAVE Panic Button app. Slight upgrades are being made to allow for full functionality of the system, after which it will be rolled out to all staff,” Ms. Henriquez said.

Some of Riverhead’s safety measures came in response to a November incident in which a student brought a BB gun into Riverhead High School.

David Gamberg, superintendent of the Southold and Greenport school districts, said he was aware of the issues related to the rollout of the app. “We are working with Southold Town P.D. to see if additional funding can be made available to East End town police jurisdictions to make the app effective for our local school districts,” he wrote in an email last week.

While the county is willing to pay a portion of the software fees, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said, local East End police departments are responsible for roughly $15,000 a year for the software.

“The true value of the RAVE application is the Public Safety answering software,” Chief Flatley said. “Right now, it’s really not much more than a glorified way of dialing 911.”

As for the added cost to local police departments, Ms. Fleming said the county Legislature is currently ironing out the details of possibly absorbing costs associated with creating a local police connection for the East End.

“That is a possibility that’s on the table,” Chief Skrynecki acknowledged.

Access to the app would be authorized at the discretion of each district’s superintendent or security director, he said, adding that he suspected many districts would seek police advice in making those determinations.

Chief Hegermiller said that once the department has the infrastructure in place, the app will be able to give responders more information than an ordinary 911 call. “It’ll give us a precise location of where a call is being made from. There’s a lot of good things about it,” he said.

An exact release date for the app has not yet been determined. However, Ms. Fleming stressed that “by the time the schools would implement it, this concern will be addressed, and you will have the closest police department notified.

“I’m certain that the chiefs on the East End are committed to the safety of the schools and they’re going to do everything they can,” she continued. “Let’s hope they never have to use it.”

Editor’s Note: This post was updated with additional information from county officials.

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