Volusia County, FL – One Florida sheriff has had enough of threats and hoaxes shutting down schools and using up police resources in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings.
In one Volusia County school district alone, 15 juveniles are now facing felony threat charges since the shooting.
Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said he was going to make parents more accountable for their children’s behavior after four more students were arrested on Thursday for threats of violence toward other students or their schools, WFLA reported.
Sheriff Chitwood announced that students, or their parents, will be responsible for reimbursing the county for the cost of the police response to their threats.
“Last week, I said, ‘You don’t want me raising your child. You don’t want me involved in your family life.’ Well, now you have me, because yesterday was just out of control,” Sheriff Chitwood said, according to WFXT.
“You want to act like a knucklehead? You’re going to be a knucklehead in handcuffs. And I’m telling the parents, sit your child down and tell them. You don’t want Chitwood raising your kid, because if Chitwood is raising your kid, the only jewelry they’re ever going to have is a pair of handcuffs on them,” the sheriff told WFLA.
The minimum cost for law enforcement to respond to a school threat was more than $1,000, but the sheriff said it could be much more expensive, depending on the nature of the threat and what kind of resources are required to investigate it, WFLA reported.
Fifteen students in Volusia County were facing felony charges and possible prison time for making threats since the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, which left 17 students and faculty dead, and other 14 wounded.
“We’re not joking around,” Volusia County Schools spokeswoman Nancy Wait told WCMH.
“Unfortunately that word didn’t get to the students and we started seeing more students making threats in the classroom, and that was frightening to their classmates,” she said. “Most of the time these students didn’t have access to weapons, but they were still making threats to shoot up their schools.”
Many schools and police departments have been taking a tougher approach to the sort of behavior that might have been construed as a “prank” in the past.
WCMH reported that an Ohio organization that tracks school threats and violent incidents nationwide has documented a spike in threats across the county since the Valentine’s Day rampage at the Florida high school.
The Educator’s School Safety Network had counted 797 incidents as of Sunday, a seven-fold increase in the usual rate, according to Amy Klinger, the network’s director of programs.
In the 18 days since a former student murdered classmates and teachers in Parkland, there have been 743 threats of various kinds, including gun and bomb threats, WCMH reported.
They reported that 331 threats were made on social media, and another 119 threats were made verbally.
Klinger told WCMH that the mentality has shifted from treating school threats as pranks to treating them as crimes with actual consequences.
“They almost have to be,” she said. “Do we want to do this for the rest of the school year? Do we want to have this constant chaos and fear, and people being upset? How much learning is going on?”
Don Bridges, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, told WCMH the number of threats decreases when school districts make it clear that the behavior won’t be tolerated.