As a former Suffolk County police detective, member of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and the husband of a kindergarten teacher, school safety is of the utmost importance to me.
We all want to do everything possible to protect our children in school and elsewhere, but the steps we take in pursuit of that critical goal must provide a real, significant, effective means of protection, not simply be feel-good measures or public relations stunts that detract from our true mission.
Suffolk County Executive Bellone recently signed legislation to borrow $2 million to cover the licensing of the Rave Panic Button for public and private schools across the county. The smartphone-based application alerts authorities in the event of an active shooter or emergency situation.
I guess that sounds okay and makes for a good press release and photo op, but is it really the best way to spend significant taxpayer dollars and protect our children? After all, given the rate at which technology is evolving, such an application could be obsolete within a year or two, yet our residents will be paying for it for a decade or more.
Let’s take a look at what the $2 million bought. Here is a disclaimer from the Rave website: “The services do not replace dialing 9-1-1 in the event you require immediate assistance. The services must not be relied upon to provide emergency response services. Such emergency response services can only be accessed by placing a direct call to 9-1-1.”
Please tell me the county didn’t just spend $2 million for 9-1-1 speed dial. Also troubling is the fact that Rave considers the personal data of its users to be a “business asset” that may be transferred or shared with other parties in the event of any acquisition, merger, reorganization, etc. Given the volatile nature of the IT industry, who knows who will ultimately have access to the personal information of teachers, school administrators and employees?
The tragic shootings that have taken place in schools across the country have understandably prompted the call for government action. We do need to act. However, that action must make sense and serve the best interest of our children and all our residents.
It cannot be action simply for the sake of saying we did something and we cannot allow on our fears to be used for a company’s financial gain. The “another tool in the toolbox” approach can do more harm than good if that tool is ineffective or confusing or causes unnecessary delays or other unintended consequences. The steps that elected officials take must be responsible ones, driven by public safety not public relations.
Let’s not forget that Bellone was the same guy who gave us and stood by Chief James Burke who together removed Suffolk detectives from the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and allowed MS-13 to wreak havoc in the county. Of course, as you may know, Burke is now an inmate in federal prison.
As a side note, Intralogic, the company that represents Wave on Long Island, donated more than $10,000 to Bellone and Suffolk Democrats. Starting to get the picture?
Robert Trotta is a Suffolk County Legislator representing the 13th district.