County tipline open for business

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, August 4, 2011

Making a call to report underage drinking or drug use may give people pause to complete the call to authorities.
Staff members at Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems have implemented a plan that will help ease the uncertainties of making such a call.
Meg Shelnutt, prevention coordinator for SWABHC, said a tip line will allow reporters of such activity to remain anonymous.
“This tipline will give people, especially youth, a safe and anonymous way to report to their community about underage drinking, drug use or other illegal activities,” Shelnutt said. “The tipline can be used to report just about anything you can imagine from loitering, field parties, house parties, or any other non-emergency but dangerous behavior.”
Shelnutt said the tipline is a step her organization is taking to help curb activities that put youth and the community at risk for disastrous situations.
“We hope the tipline becomes a powerful tool for students, parents and members of the community to gather important information to help prevent and resolve community safety issues,” Shelnutt said. “We hope that by putting this tipline in place it will give the community an awareness of the problem and provide everyone with an opportunity to take steps to stop illegal activity by the youth of our communities.”
Shelnutt said the effort to implement the tipline has taken some time but will be immediately available.
“We have worked on this for quite some time and have finally gotten everything in place to make it operational,” Shelnutt said. “We want to do everything in our power to help curb some of the activities that we see in our communities. This is just one of many steps we are taking.”
Shelnutt said the tipline will be manned 24-hours a day, seven days a week and will allow all callers to remain anonymous.
“We don’t want callers to be afraid of retaliation,” Shelnutt said. “The calls will go into a call center and information about the event in question will be taken. The operators will then contact the proper authorities to alert them of the situation whether it is an upcoming event such as a house party or if it’s something that is going on as the call is made.”
Shelnutt said authorities will make the determination on how best to handle any situation described in a tipline call.
“By putting this number out there we hope to change some attitudes about these kinds of problems,” Shelnutt said. “It’s not as much the number of calls that we receive that’s important, but to know that there is the possibility of being reported for illegal activity we hope will help change the attitudes about underage drinking.”
The tipline now in place for Escambia County residents is only the second implemented in the state, Shelnutt said.
“We are the second county to have an tipline operating to report underage drinking,” Shelnutt said. “There is a similar tipline in Baldwin County and there is a methline in Mobile County. We hope that we are starting something that will spread across the state.”
Shelnutt also said there are plans to help spread the tipline availability across the state, beginning with the three other counties served by the agency.
“We hope this tipline is successful,” Shelnutt said. “If it takes off well here we hope to get a line operational in Clark, Monroe and Conecuh counties as well.”
A weekly report will be submitted to SWAMHC officials to keep up with activities reported throughout the communities, Shelnutt said.
“Our call center will send us a report letting us know how many reports were made and what activities were reported,” Shelnutt said. “We will be able to see where the activities are suspected and how many people are involved. This will give us valuable information on how to approach any problems we face.”
Shelnutt said the cooperation and work of the members of the community will be essential in making the tipline successful.
“This is a community collaboration,” Shelnutt said. “We want everyone working together toward a common vision and that is to stop our youth from making decisions that will have an effect on their lives and the lives of those around them. We are doing this to save our children.”
To report illegal activity of youth in the community, call the tipline at 1-855-U-CALL-IN or 1-855-822-5546.