‘This has to stop’
At a press conference Tuesday, the Cape Coral Police Department reiterated a message to Cape Coral and Lee County students alike, “Fake ThreatsReal Consequences.”
CCPD Chief David Newlan, along with Dr. Greg Adkins, the School District of Lee County Superintendent, spoke once again how serious law enforcement takes any threats against a school or its students and faculty, following three recent school threat arrests made at Mariner High School, Mariner Middle and Gulf Middle School.
“Our top priority is protecting our children, and that will always continue,” said Newlan. “We take all threats very seriously and will continue to do so. We will investigate every one, and we will arrest you.
“This has to stop,” he continued. “Kids that make these fake threats need to realize how serious this is. This has long-lasting effects – scholarships, future jobs. I am asking parents, grandparents, family members – please sit down with your children, talk to them, educate them and make them aware of how serious this is.”
Newlan said that since the beginning of the school year, 47 fake threats have been reported in Cape Coral schools.
The three students arrested, ages 16, 13 and 12, will face second degree felony charges for their actions.
Adkins reported that since the end of winter break, there have been 20 threats in schools across the district, resulting in five arrests since the “Fake ThreatReal Consequences” campaign began (including the Cape students).
“I want to emphasize to our students and our parents that when we talk about real consequences, we talk about extremely serious consequences, up to and including expulsion,” Adkins said. “What’s also, I think, very, very important, is the consequences that you see for other students who get scared by these threats. Also, the lost instructional time when kids stay home from school because a school is under a threat. Also, importantly, the amount of time that school staff has to take away from its primary mission, that our law enfacement officials have to take away from their primary mission, to investigate these threats – because we will do this. We will investigate every lead, until we get the person that’s responsible for the threat.”
Adkins implored parents to play a role in this initiative by speaking to their children and helping to end these “senseless threats” that are “having a negative impact in our community.”
His insight as to why these events keep occurring despite schools across the county highlighting their campaign?
“We actually expected to have a slight uptick (in threats made),” said Adkins. “Whenever you bring attention to an issue, sometimes you have (instances) where students just want to try to see if ‘Are they really serious?’ and I think what you’re seeing is that, ‘Yes, we are.’ I’m not altogether surprised – I’m a little bit surprised by the sheer numbers of it, but not surprised at the slight increase.”
He believes that every threat made should be investigated to the fullest extent despite the “significant” manpower needed.
“I think that when you let students get away with something like that, they’re more apt to repeat behavior,” Adkins said.
He noted that parents may also be found monetarily responsible for the time and efforts of resources due to their child’s fake threat.
These threats do not all fall under the same umbrella, as some may be to miss a test date or just a day of school in general, while some are a legitimate cry for help.
“It’s definitely a mix,” he said. “You’ve got kids who are just pulling a stunt to get attention, you have other kids see where its just a cry for help.”
CCPD Deputy Chief Anthony Sizemore, who was present at the initial “Fake ThreatsReal Consequences” campaign launch, provided his insight as to why these threats continue to occur in Cape Coral and Lee County schools.
“I have a couple of different thoughts on it. Obviously we’re coming up on the anniversary of Parkland, and I believe that there’s a little bit of ‘jest’ if you will, as misplaced as it is, with the fact that we specifically named the type of threat of writing on the bathroom wall.”
Four of the five school threats that resulted in arrests were threats written in school bathrooms.
Sizemore made an interesting point in that young students may see school threats as part of the experience.
“It’s a new reality that students in school today – it’s not a new novelty of school shootings, this is the way they’ve grown up in the school system, that this happens. For people of our age, it still seems like a new phenomenon, but it is their reality that this is something to contend with, and to make light of it is really just disheartening – especially not even a year removed from students who were just horrified and had to experience that.”
Sizemore said that the ever-growing presence of social media platforms and ways to communicate via technology may a role, especially that of “one-upmanship.”
” When you put it online and there’s a competition aspect to ‘out-wild’ the next person, this is another subset of that,” he said.
School resource officers are now abundantly present in facilities across Lee County working to help mitigate these threats, determining whether they are credible or not and finding who is responsible.
The SROs are just the beginning of the law enforcement process though, as CCPD, as well as other agencies in Lee County delve deep into their tool box to resolve school threats.
“It’s not just an SRO running down leads. They take the initial report (then) we partner with our major crimes detectives that come out of this building and go to the school. We had three in one day yesterday, that’s a taxing effort,” said Sizemore.
For more information on the “Fake ThreatReal Consequences” campaign, visit www.leeschools.net.
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj