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Representative wants to improve Courage2Report system following I-Team report

Rep. Sarah Unsicker believes schools and police departments should be required to tell the Missouri Highway Patrol what was done with tips.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The Missouri Highway Patrol only knows what happens to less than half of the calls that come into the state's anonymous Courage2Report tip line.

The I-Team reported that stat earlier this month, and it didn't sit well with Rep. Sarah Unsicker (D-91).

Now, she is looking for a co-sponsor on a bill that would require schools and police departments to report back to the Missouri Highway Patrol about what they did with the call.

“I think there needs to be that kind of relationship, where the school district should have to act on whatever information they receive and they should have to report back to the highway patrol what they did,” she said. “I think public safety is a really an important issue. 

"Kids are important and it's important to protect kids. So, I think we should be able to get this done,” she said.

The Courage2Report tip line is an anonymous way people can report concerns about school staffers.

Maura Benson called the Courage2Report tip line in August 2021 and accused Brandon Holbrook of sexually assaulting her and telling her about pedophiliac fantasies.

She shared her story in an exclusive interview with the I-Team after Holbrook was arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student at Bernard Middle School in the Mehlville School District -- six months after she reported him to the tip line.

Holbrook died from a fentanyl overdose in his cell in October.

Benson hoped sharing her story would prompt someone like Unsicker to come forward and improve the Courage2Report system.

The 14-year-old victim's family has also filed a civil lawsuit against the Mehlville School District, citing Benson's call to the tip line as proof that the school knew he was a risk and kept him employed regardless.

A school district representative told the I-Team the district does not comment on pending litigation, so it's unclear what was done with Benson's tip.

Since it launched in May 2019, 2,138 tips just like Benson’s have come into the Courage2Report system.

The Missouri Highway Patrol has identified contacts at 3,000 schools to send the information to. The patrol also tracks when emails to those districts bounce back as undeliverable due to staffing changes, and enters new contact information, according to spokesman Mike O'Connell.

Courage2Report staff also track whether the schools and police departments that get tips have checked the Courage2Report portal to make sure they received the information and follow up if the portal has not been accessed, O’Connell said.

School districts and police departments are then asked to tell the highway patrol what they have done with the information within 30 days of a tip.

But they do not have to.

“Schools and law enforcement are not legally required to report their response to us, nor do we tell them how to respond,” according to a statement from the Missouri Highway Patrol. “We confirm they receive the information in the tip as sent to us.”

Unsicker said she also would like the highway patrol to send a report to the legislature or the governor’s office about the system.

“Something that would say, ‘Ok, we received this many calls from this percent of school districts and this many were acted upon and deemed not legitimate threats and this many were acted upon, and deemed legitimate calls, and these are the ways we acted on them,'” she said.

Unsicker said the legislation she wants to sponsor would not be able to give the Missouri Highway Patrol the power to dictate how schools and police departments should handle the information but adding another layer of accountability could make a difference.

Benson said she was thrilled to hear of Unsicker's plans.

"This means so much to me," she said.

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