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N4T Investigators: Handling school threats - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Handling school threats

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UPDATE: A spokesman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department told us on March 23, 2018 that "Since the Parkland, Fl. shooting on February 14, the School Resource Officer Unit has conducted 30 school threats investigations with 11 arrests for differing charges. These are all from schools in our jurisdiction, which are schools in the unincorporated areas of Pima County. This entire school year, they have conducted 64 investigations of school threats."

TUCSON - Since 17 people were killed at a Florida high school five weeks ago, threats made by students at schools in Pima County have increased.

"The copycat events as fallout for that, have been greater than any other one that we've seen," says Sheriff's Deputy and School Resource Officer Bill Farmer.

Farmer is one of only 12 school resource officers to cover the county's 52 public schools. Farmer says he can't recall in his three years on the job, so many threats being made by students to shoot up their school as he's seen recently. "We've seen an escalation," Farmer told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

As News 4 Tucson reported earlier this month, three threats were made on just one day, March 9. Police say a 16-year-old threatened on social media to attack Tucson High school with an AR-15 and use explosives to blow up the building. Although no weapons were found in his home, he was charged with making terrorist threats, a felony. The sheriff's department says a threat was made on social media against Catalina Foothills High. A 14-year-old was arrested and charged with interference with or disruption of an educational institution. That's a felony. The investigation revealed the suspect had no access to weapons.  A  Mountain View High School student sent a threatening image from the internet. Investigators said the kid just didn't want to go to school the next day. And in the last school year at Cienega High, three bomb threats were investigated; all were found not credible.

Deputy Farmer says, "Who's to know what actually lies within their minds, within their hearts. But often times what we're getting from them is that they wanted attention, that it was a result of conflict and they really wanted to alert a person."

The superintendent of the Tucson Unified School District, Dr. Gabriel Trujillo, said, "We need a heavy duty investment in student support services. More social workers, more psychologists, more counselors, working with some of these disaffected youth."

The threats, of course, cannot be ignored, but they cause major disruptions for school staff and law enforcement, whose response to real service calls could be affected. Charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the nature of the threat, what exactly is said or written, and other factors investigators uncover.  

We asked Dep. Farmer what parents can or should do. He said they need to have a discussion with their child, telling them, "These things really happen. This is a real thing. There are long-lasting consequences commit them, that [making even idle threats] yields."

While every threat locally since Parkland has not been acted on, school districts are reviewing their safety policies. TUSD's superintendent is pushing for a big investment in security. He's calling for high-quality surveillance systems and keyless entry boxes so that schools would be locked after student entry times and employees would have to swipe their ID card or be identified on camera before being buzzed into the school.

If you have any story, you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

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