Chicago police and school officials are hoping to recruit a new army of campus confidential informants under a pilot program designed to encourage students to text message tips to police.
Ten area high schools are signed on to participate in the program, announced at a press conference on school safety yesterday at Dyett High School.
According to Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, the text messages will be anonymous, but students whose information leads to an arrest will be eligible to call in and claim a reward of up to $1,000.
"The bottom line is, the students know who the bullies and gang bangers are," Weis says.
Due in part to additional security cameras and a student run "peer jury' system, the number of arrests at Dyett has fallen more than 80 percent in the last two years, from 35 to 6, according to principal Jacquelyn Lemon.
"I do feel safer here," says Kelia Malone, 17, a senior at Dyett and a member of the peer-jury group.
Malone says she thinks students will use the text-messaging system.
Douglass, Gage Park, Harper, Sullivan, Crane, Phillips, Richards, Hirsh and Fenger high schools are also participating.
Anders Durbak, of the Chicago Public Schools' office of school safety and security, says he believes the program will aid police in fighting campus crime and give students a way to provide information without the "anxiety" of a direct phone call to the authorities.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," Durbak said. "Young people feel more comfortable with text messages."
Officials also announced plans to install cameras inside and outside at least 25 more schools and link more than 200 schools to police and the city's Office of Emergency Management and Control. With the additions, the total number of camera-equipped schools throught the city will be 333.
"The camera support will prove their worth in an emergency," Durbak says.
Weis also announced plans to post more police officers before and after school hours.
The safety measures come after a school year in which 23 CPS students died from gunfire. Already this year, two students were killed in gun incidents.
"To me, it's insane the level of violence our kids have to live with," said CPS Chief Arne Duncan. "How many children have to die before we as a state, we as a country, do something about this?"
Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.