FBI partnering with local law enforcement to curb hoax school threats

By Aaron Barker - Senior Digital Editor, Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - The FBI publicly launched a public awareness campaign Tuesday aimed at stopping people from posting online threats.

The FBI said the number of school threats has drastically increased in the last year.

"In 2017, there were about 124 of these hoax type threats. I think in 2018 that number increased to over 300," said Perrye Turner, an FBI Houston agent.

Law enforcement officials said whenever a threat is called in -- whether it's real or fake -- they must look into it. In some cases, that means calling in the SWAT team or outside law enforcement agencies. 

"Each one requires significant manpower hours and significant costs. We in law enforcement cannot take the chance. Schools cannot take a chance," said HPD assistant chief Larry Satterwhite.

Houston Independent School District Police Chief, Paul Cordova, said the efforts for a single call can be very costly.

"Easily into the thousands, maybe tens of thousands (of dollars)," Cordova said.

On Tuesday during a news conference, officials said they aim to collaborate to stop the influx of fake threats.

The #ThinkBeforeYouPost initiative is designed to educate the public about the consequences of making threats to schools and other public places.

"It's not a joke to say you're going to bring a gun to school and shoot up a school. It is not a joke to say that you have a bomb," said Cordova said. "It's almost 100% likely that you will be caught and face the consequences criminally, and it's above anything the administration can do for you."

The HISD Police Department is one of several agencies including the Houston Police Department, Harris County Sheriff's Office and police chiefs from the Houston, Katy, Fort Bend, and Aldine who have joined the FBI in the awareness campaign to target local schools.

"When we hear of a threat, even a fabricated online threat, we have to marshal all resources," Satterwhite said.

"It's unsafe and illegal practices that are actually against the law -- it's called a terroristic threat, it is a jail-able offense," Cordova said.

"Issuing a threat is a federal crime. Those who post threats on social media or send them via text or social media or email can receive up to 5 years in federal prison or face state or local criminal charges," Turner said. "This is true even if the person did not intend or carry out the means to carry out the threat."

Law enforcement officials want parents to share the message with their children, especially after the Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe high school shootings.

"It's causing a lot of anxiety and that's why it's a third-degree felony in the State of Texas," Cordova said.

Officials said the campaign will take a village to be successful. Officials are asking parents to sit down with their children and have this talk. They also recommended that students who see threats should report them to authorities, but refrain from sharing them with others to prevent fear and panic.

"The age of accountability is 10 years-old. So from 10 years on you're responsible for your own actions. So, if you love your children, which I know (parents) do, you need to sit down and talk with them about how important this is that you can't threaten someone and put someone in fear of their own life," Cordova said.

 

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