State, local police warn of consequences for school threats

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published April 9, 2018

 Lt. Mike Shaw, of the Michigan State Police, speaks about the importance of preventing and prosecuting threats to schools during a press conference in Detroit last week.

Lt. Mike Shaw, of the Michigan State Police, speaks about the importance of preventing and prosecuting threats to schools during a press conference in Detroit last week.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

DETROIT — The consequence of falsely threatening a school with violence is a felony charge, punishable with fines and up to 20 years in prison.

So one might wonder why anyone, young or old, would even think about calling in a school threat. But it happens, and since the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, such threats have been on the rise.

“This is an epidemic that the law enforcement community is facing together,” said United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.

He joined law enforcement officials from around metro Detroit April 3 at the Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit for a press conference about how police and prosecutors hope to decrease the unprecedented number of school threats the area has experienced since February, which in total is around 100 incidents across Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Livingston counties.

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said the threats need to stop, not only so families feel safe sending students to school, but because law enforcement can’t afford to keep devoting resources to investigating the dangers — and they certainly can’t afford to ignore them, either.

“Everything stops dead to ensure the safety of our schools,” he said. “We can’t keep going like this.”

To deter further threats, Schneider and participating agencies vowed to “aggressively pursue and prosecute” anyone who threatens children and schools. Further, they promoted the use of the OK2SAY program that empowers Michigan students, parents, school personnel and community mental health programs to submit tips about a potential threat via a mobile app, by email, by text message or by a phone call.

“The ‘See something, say something’ (message) is working well,” Smith said. “Every time we get a threat, someone is getting arrested.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craig echoed that statement, saying pranksters in his jurisdiction are either being caught because they think apps like Snapchat will conceal their identity — a theory Craig said is always debunked when police track offenders down — or because students are turning in their classmates who threaten their right to be educated.

“What we see is children being good citizens,” Craig said. “A vast majority of students want to go to school in a safe environment.”

To get the message across that threats carry major consequences, Schneider said his office and partner agencies have prepared a presentation that law enforcement personnel can bring to schools upon request. School officials can contact their local police department to inquire about the program.

“We want to get the message across that if you’re a kid, you won’t want to spend one night in lockup. You don’t want to go for even a day,” Schneider said. “Hopefully, this (declines). Hopefully, school gets out for the summer and we get a break from this, and when they come back in the fall we don’t see any more (threats).”