McALLEN — Police at the McAllen school district hope students will use a new mobile app to report bullying or other threats to authorities before they happen.

The district last month rolled out an app for iPads and other mobile devices that lets students anonymously report incidents of bullying and threats of violence or suicide to school police instantaneously.

The app, dubbed “Anti-Bullying,” is not a substitute for calling 9-1-1 in emergencies — a disclaimer that appears before each submission reminds users of that. But with about 25,000 students in the district now in possession of iPad tablets, police believe it can be an effective tool for dealing with bullying and preventing more serious incidents.

“Where the actual bullying goes on most of the time, it’s tough for an administrator to pick it up or even respond to it,” said Adrian Garza, project director with the district police department. “It happens in the bathroom … off school grounds … they’re essentially our eyes and ears outside the school walls as well as when we’re not there.”

The app includes text, photo and video capabilities for reporting or documenting bullying. It also directs students to additional resources, including the Tropical Texas Behavioral Health crisis hotline.

Each submission would be routed to Garza, Crime Stoppers director Mike Medrano and district police Chief Cris Esquivel, as well as several other senior staffers. The department’s 24-hour dispatch also continues to receive alerts after regular hours.

The app’s developer, Timothy Porter, has already partnered with five other districts or charter schools. McAllen is the second Texas public school district to implement the app after Judson Independent School District. His company, Appddiction Studio, has additional partnerships in the works with school districts in San Antonio.

“Kids love smartphones and app,” Porter said. “We wanted to reach them on the level they use.”

The McAllen school district has not undertaken significant promotional efforts for the app yet. A federal grant will pay for items such as posters and banners. But for the most part, introducing the app will be left up to bullying reduction committees established for each campus.

Garza said without any publicity, students have already begun to download the app by finding it in the district’s iTunes store.

“One of our concerns was initially, how do we train students to use the app,” he said. “What our technology department told us was: ‘You don’t have to worry about that because they’ll pick it up on their own.’ They’re self-taught when it comes to technology.”

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Andrew Kreighbaum covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at andrew@themonitor.com and (956) 683-4472.

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