KATY, Texas (KTRK) -- As thousands of students flood back into Katy ISD schools this week, so are their cell phones.
Katy ISD police are tapping into the power of these devices to make sure students feel safe at school through the SpeakUP app.
"The importance of the SpeakUP app is to give people a safe place to bring matters that concern them to our attention," said Frank Muniz, a mental health officer with district police.
The app can be used as a direct line of communication without having to make any calls.
Katy ISD is meeting students where they are -- on their phones.
"They're very well versed on how to use a phone, how to download apps, how to engage. It's very natural for them, so it's a lot easier for some of these people to talk to us that way instead of saying it face-to-face," said Muniz.
Since August of 2019, Katy ISD has received 8,764 tips through the app, often times regarding serious topics like vaping, drugs, date rape, abusive relationships, active shooter threats, and weapons.
There are a total of 41 different categories to choose from when filing a tip or concern.
The district said it reports an average of 15 tips received each day. Every single tip is anonymous.
On the receiving end, Katy ISD police dispatch campus administration and the recently formed mental health unit.
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"We started a full-time unit in March of 2021," said mental health officer Imran Admani.
The mental health unit is another facet to campus security. The officers, often in plain clothes and unmarked cars, respond to student and parent concerns around-the-clock on campus and at homes.
"Hey, it's OK not to be OK. Just don't do it by yourself," Admani said.
Admani also said he and his partner work closely in partnership with campus counselors, licensed psychologists, and principals to help students who may want to hurt themselves or others.
"Sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger because you know they won't judge you. That's the best thing I can do for them. I won't judge you, I don't know you, and you don't know me. Sometimes it's so much easier that we can talk to one another," said Admani.
Within the SpeakUP app, anyone can report tips and concerns, upload images like screen grabs or photos, and even live chat with school police and administration.
"Just gives them that space to talk where they couldn't talk to a parent, or they don't know how to reach the police, or they don't want to pick up the phone and call 911, or don't know who to call. SpeakUP is the perfect venue for that," said Muniz.
A QR code to easily download the SpeakUP app, along with important phone numbers, are on the back of every Katy ISD student badge.
The SpeakUP app is also one click away on the main page of Katy ISD's website.
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