School safety: Investigating threat reports common for administrators
BY KIM ARCHER & ANDREA EGER World Staff Writers
Thursday, December 20, 2012
12/20/12 at 7:02 AM
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Investigating reports of threats is a common task for school administrators and security officials, but the vast majority prove to be unfounded.
"Unfortunately, in today's environment when somebody says something threatening, particularly involving physical violence, you can't just dismiss it. You have to try to get to the source," said Gary Rudick, chief of the Tulsa Public Schools campus Police Department.
Statistics on threat reports aren't tracked, but Rudick and a host of other local school district officials say threats are a common occurrence in the school setting.
"It is uncommon to experience the level of threats we've had this week because of the panic and fear that has possessed our nation over last week's tragedy. But, typically, we see an increase whenever testing processes are under way or whenever there has been an incident of violence that has been in the local news such as a drive-by shooting or something like that," Rudick said.
Five hours before the Connecticut elementary school massacre last Friday, an 18-year-old Bartlesville High School student was arrested after police uncovered an alleged school-shooting massacre plot.
The alleged plot came to light after a student reported it to school officials. Local school officials said tips like that are crucial for preventing such tragedies.
"Even if you think it's no big deal, you don't know what people are thinking," said Bonnie Rogers, spokeswoman for Jenks Public Schools. "If we hear something, we investigate it. No matter what it is."
Rudick said the majority of tips come directly from students, but in some cases, teachers report things that have been reported to them or things they've overheard.
"It is most common for campus police or school administrators to receive tips about threats against specific students, not schools in general - threats to physically attack a student over a girl, over insults, family, or neighborhood issues," he said. "Those conflicts don't stop at the schoolhouse door."
Broken Arrow Public Schools spokeswoman Tara Thompson said schools automatically call police about serious threats, or to report firearms or drugs.
Districts do some initial investigation, for instance, to determine whether a name given is actually one of its students, she said.
Charlie Bushyhead, Union Public Schools assistant superintendent of support services, said: "Initially, we make a determination as to the validity of the report. But we always err on the safe side and assume there is a danger if we are unsure."
Thompson said the district identifies and investigates a number of threats that are made through social-media outlets.
"And even though they are often scheduled for a time and place outside of school, we follow up on these incidents when we learn about them because we don't want an off-site issue to become an on-site issue," she said.
Every local school district has policies in place to address threats of violence.
"We always take opportunities to review our safety policies and procedures. It doesn't take a tragedy to do that - it's something we have to do all the time, unfortunately," Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr said.
School officials say threats like that in Bartlesville are few and far between.
But districts are ready to deal with them when they get the information.
"Teachers and administrators need to know that if you have any inkling that somebody has something that just makes you feel a little uncomfortable, then you need to tell someone who can investigate that," Rogers said.
School security training
State Superintendent Janet Barresi is calling on all school district leaders to review and evaluate their safety policies in the aftermath of last week's school massacre in Connecticut.
"There has been a great deal of discussion and questions about Oklahoma and the safety of our students in this state," she said at the beginning of Wednesday's state Board of Education meeting.
Barresi said she didn't believe that a statewide policy is necessary. Districts are already required to have lockdown drills at least twice a year.
Gov. Mary Fallin is encouraging school officials and law enforcement officers to take advantage of security training seminars offered by the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.
Homeland security officials cover a variety of topics, including the importance of developing, updating and exercising an emergency response plan and how to conduct a security survey to help identify and correct potential security gaps.
Two-day seminars are provided to school officials at no cost and are held at a variety of locations around the state. Local law enforcement officials are invited to attend with school officials in order to coordinate emergency response efforts.
Over the past three years, the state's Office of Homeland Security has trained an estimated 400 school officials from 150-plus school districts.
To sign-up for a 2013 security training seminar, school officials may contact the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security at 405-425-7296.
Statewide school firearm incident counts
Other firearm incidents (explosives, silencers etc.)||5||4||8||6|
Multiple firearm incidents||1||0||1||2|
Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education
Original Print Headline: School safety: Investigating threat reports common for administrators
Kim Archer 918-581-8315 Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Tulsa Public Schools police chief Gary Rudick speaks during a media conference as Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett (back, from left), Tulsa Police chief Chuck Jordan (back, right) listen, in the Cabinet Conference Room, at the TPS Education Service Center. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World