A number of public schools in West Michigan received threats of violence in the past couple of weeks. District leaders in Kalamazoo, Parchment, Portage and Vicksburg canceled classes at some or all of their schools. With each threat comes a police investigation and increased security.
Lt. Michael Shaw of the Michigan State Police spoke with Michigan Radio Morning Edition host Doug Tribou about how police respond to school threats.
Shaw says when MSP receives tips, the department informs the school district and local authorities.
"We have an app called OK2SAY,” he said. “A lot of students have that app. So, when they make some type of tip to us it’s going to come into our operations center in Lansing and then we kind of farm it out, so to speak, to whatever department’s closest to where that threat is."
Districts often err on the side of caution, he says, closing schools in the early stages of an investigation. As the investigation progresses and a threat's credibility is assessed, police leave the decisions about when to reopen to school districts.
All threats are fully investigated, including copycats, whether they're credible or not.
"'There’s no such thing as ‘I was just joking’ or ‘I was trying to get out of a test,'" Shaw said.
Posting a terrorist threat is a felony under state law. The penalty is up to 20 years in prison, a fine of no more than $20,000, or both.
After the Kalamazoo Public Schools closed four schools because of threats, police were posted at those schools when they reopened. Staff members used metal-detecting wands on students as they arrived that morning. There was also a police presence at other buildings. Shaw says schools and police departments use a lot of resources to respond, and there's a trickle-down effect.
"It’s also taxing on the students when you’re going to class like that and you see a police presence and metal detectors and people looking around,” he said. “That’s not the best learning environment."