In the age of the internet, many assume that their comings and goings on social media and elsewhere in digital spaces are anonymous. An anonymous person can sometimes feel comfortable to say and do things online that they would not do in person. With this comfort on the rise, so too has there been a rise in anonymous threats to schools and public spaces on social media.
Last week, school districts nationwide, including HISD, received a “general threat” and were forced to mobilize campus police to investigate and secure campuses despite a lack of confirmation of the threat’s veracity.
HISD takes all threats to the safety of students and staff very seriously and will immediately investigate thoroughly. Upon report of a threat, the HISD Police Department will conduct a threat assessment in collaboration with administration of the affected school, sometimes partnering with outside agencies to locate and identify the threat’s source. The HISD PD will then contact the District Attorney’s office who will determine whether to press charges. Threatening a school on social media is a federal crime, a felony which can potentially carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.
“By the time we present [evidence to the District Attorney], we have a pinpoint of where and at what time the threat was made,” said Sergeant Sonia Quintanilla of the HISD PD Investigations division.
With the assistance of other government agencies such as the FBI and the ATF, Quintanilla and other investigators can track a threat to the IP address of the device from which it was posted whether it be a computer, tablet, or cell phone.
Not only are there significant legal ramifications to making a threat against a school, but investigating these threats and putting schools on lockdown utilizes a great deal of resources. HISD will always place the safety of students and staff above all else and seeks to dissuade hoax threats that waste HISD PD officers’ time and energy as well as valuable class time for students.
“I would encourage students to be mindful of what they post on social media,” said Sergeant Jorge Ramos. “What they intend to be a joke may be taken totally differently by someone else observing that post. A lot of the time, we don’t hear about threats directly from the person who posts them, but from someone else who observed the threat and reached out to the police department.”
Most HISD schools have an HISD PD resource officer on campus and available for students to talk to if they are ever feeling threatened or if they overhear something disturbing from another student or member of the community. For students who are reluctant to “snitch” or “tattle,” HISD PD has a form available to make an anonymous report.