SpeakOut student hotline ready for new school year

Anonymous tips program serves 6 Central Florida school districts

ORLANDO, Fla. – The SpeakOut anonymous tips program, led by former Orlando Police Department homicide detective Barbara Bergin, is poised to connect student leads with law enforcement agencies in six Central Florida school districts for the 2023-24 school year.

Bergin, executive director of the nonprofit organization since 2009, told News 6 the staff took in 1,200 leads from students last year, with the highest use of the hotline coming from schools in Lake, Seminole and Brevard counties.

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The hotline is also available to students in Orange, Sumter and Osceola counties.

“This is a free tool,” Bergin said. “We average a couple hundred tips a month when school is in session.”

The tips come from students in elementary school through high school, with staff always respecting the student “code of silence.”

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey is a strong supporter of the program, with 43 county deputies serving as student resource deputies.

City police agencies are also involved in the SpeakOut program, placing a total of 77 resource deputies and officers in schools across the county.

“This is an ability for students to get us information without feeling like they’re ratting out their friends,” Ivey said. “This is an opportunity to get us information that saves lives.”

The program takes tips from students and parents with leads spanning everything from alcohol and tobacco violations, suicide threats, guns and planned school violence.

According to SpeakOut, calls are received at 800-423-8477 by live operators on a secure line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. No calls are recorded and there is no caller ID ever used.

The system has added options of sending tips online or on a free app called P3 Campus.

The app is available for both Apple and Android phone systems.

Bergin told News 6 she is hopeful every county will eventually use SpeakOut in tandem with the state-mandated alert program, FortifyFL.

“There’s no reason that SpeakOut can’t be in every school along with FortifyFL. Every 15 minutes, our tips are being reviewed; if they need action, we’re taking action,” Bergin said. “The difference with what we’re doing today with the kids is that we’re giving them a voice.”

For more information on the tips program, go to speakouthotline.org

If you have any questions, or a school issue, email mholfeld@wkmg.com.

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About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.