In the 1990’s, Detective Susan Payne was teaching children about ethics, drug abuse and school safety as a School Resource Officer and when a revelation occurred. "I felt we were missing the boat, asking kids for information after the fact,'' Payne said. “Kids know long before adults what's going to happen. It's a tragedy when kids call after a crime. We need to stop it before it happens." Payne knew that young people were afraid to come forward with critical information and they needed a safe, confidential way to report their concerns.
From these beginnings, a local hotline emerged where young people could call and prevent crimes. The idea, initially tested in Colorado Springs, was met with excellent results. In 1999, the pilot prevention strategy was presented to Colorado's Attorney General and a group of Colorado leaders who recommended replicating the program statewide. Then that same year, two students at Columbine High School rampaged through their own school, randomly killing 12 fellow students and a beloved teacher, spewing rage and trying to set off bombs that could have killed hundreds more before they killed themselves. Overnight, school officials had to change the way they thought about their students, school safety, and prevention.
In Colorado, policymakers began studying the causes of violence and possible prevention programs. Colorado was already home to one of the most renowned violence prevention centers in the country – at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Dr. Del Elliott, Founding Director of the CU- Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, had spent years studying scientifically proven crime prevention programs. Dr. Elliott and Former United States Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Colorado's then-Attorney General, and Detective Susan Payne, were working together on the Safe Communities~Safe Schools initiative. They traveled to every Colorado county on a "listening tour," searching for answers to the elusive questions of how to make communities safer.
By 2001, Colorado Governor Bill Owens' Columbine Review Commission, which had been studying the Columbine tragedy, released its final report. Among the key findings of the report included an endorsement of Salazar's push for a statewide hotline where anonymous callers could report concerns about potential community violence. An initial safe schools' hotline was established but was found less than effective when receiving few calls in the years after implementation.
Salazar returned the focus back to the anonymous solution started in Colorado Springs as a solution to prevent school attacks through anonymous reporting. Bringing a group of state leaders together, they established the framework for the Safe2Tell model in 2003. The Colorado Trust awarded a seed money grant to develop Safe2Tell Colorado as part of the Crime Stoppers organization, a board of directors was formed, and Payne was appointed Program Director of Safe2Tell Colorado. In 2006, the program independently incorporated as a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; Payne was named Executive Director of Safe2Tell Colorado and became the first Special Agent with the Colorado Department of Public Safety-Homeland Security to focus on school safety.
Research shows that in 81% of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker knew it was going to happen but failed to report it . Typically, the information goes unreported because of fear of being a 'snitch' or that the attacker will then target the informant, thereby creating a 'code of silence'.
Anonymity is key to the success of the Safe2Tell Colorado model. Both state law and the procedures established by Safe2Tell Colorado guaranteed the anonymity of every reporter. Calls, web and mobile app reports are answered at Colorado State Patrol communication centers. When an action is needed, information immediately is forwarded to local school officials and law enforcement agencies, as appropriate. Safe2Tell Colorado developed a component of accountability ensuring that each report is investigated by school and law enforcement agencies, that action is taken and that the outcome is tracked. The assurance that calls are not traced and that appropriate action is taken has established the trust needed to persuade young people to move away from a code of silence and to take a stand. Safe2Tell Colorado has worked to educate and empower young people to keep their community safe.
As the model and use of the reporting resource grew, the need to make the model a state-funded operation became more critical. On May 5, 2014, the Colorado General Assembly adopted Senate Bill 2014-002 (C.R.S. Section 24-31-601 et seq.), incorporating Safe2Tell under the Colorado Office of the Attorney General. This provided the necessary funding to ensure the Safe2Tell Colorado reporting avenues, training and education and awareness efforts remain available to Colorado students, schools, and communities. Colorado legislators came together and voted unanimously to pass this critical legislation, showing a bipartisan effort to creating safer schools and communities. Safe2Tell now operates as a state-funded program of the Colorado Department Law, Office of the Attorney General.
The strategy developed from the Safe2Tell Colorado model prevents tragedy and saves lives. Safe2Tell Colorado works to change attitudes by providing resources around the state to educate, equip, empower, and engage youth. Safe2Tell Colorado works to break the code of silence through awareness, education and outreach activities. Safe2Tell has grown to be a nationally recognized model of prevention focused on best practices in school safety across the United States.
Susan Payne, still serving as Safe2Tell's founder and Executive Director for the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, says, "Why did I do this? I guess it comes down to the fact that I don't want bad things to happen to our children when there are adults standing by who are ready to help — when all we need is that piece of the puzzle to connect caring, committed adults at the local level to children that need their support or intervention."
Historical Overview of Safe2Tell in Colorado
 US Secret Service and US Department of Education, The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative and Implications of School Attacks in the United States. May 2002, p.34.