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  • Jordan D. Smith

Local Officials React to Hoax School Shooting Reports

Tuesday morning began with an ominous call to law enforcement officials in Okemos, MI. A teacher called reporting shots fired at Okemos High School. The school was put on lockdown and law enforcement mobilized a massive show of force in response with officers responding from Meridian Township, East Lansing and. However, it quickly became apparent that the call was a hoax once school administrators concluded that no teacher by the name given to 911 operators works at the school. After law enforcement completely searched the building and no threat was discovered, officials coordinated a reunification of students with their parents at a nearby church where students had been evacuated.

The morning though ended up being a busy one not only for law enforcement officers in Okemos but also across southern Michigan. Similar hoax calls happened Tuesday morning in Jackson, Portage, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Muskegon, and Saginaw. In each case the response and outcome was similar– a massive and forceful police response. Hoax calls like this are commonly called “swatting” owing to the effect that such events often result in the response of heavily armed SWAT teams. Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are leading the investigation into what the Michigan State Police says is calling a coordinated targeted effort to disrupt K-12 schools with fake reports of active shooters.

Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Will Heath tells the Beacon that PPS has policies and procedures in place for just this sort of situation, and that while every scenario is unique they have plans to quickly respond to keep everyone safe. Heath says that the past few years have seen PPS update emergency procedures and security technology across the district. Many of those security upgrades happened as part of the bond issue passed in 2018. These upgrades include secure entryways, door locks, camera systems and internal emergency communications. St. Patrick School likewise has made updates to security in recent years after securing a Michigan State Police grant in 2019 including exterior doors and camera systems.

PPS has instituted not only regular drills but also an annual Safety Day (usually in September) to refresh the whole school community on safety procedures. “Knowing what to do in an emergency saves lives,” says Heath. That preparation goes beyond security plans and infrastructure of the school district to include coordination with local law enforcement. “We're very fortunate in Portland to have very good, close working relationships with both St. Patrick's and Portland Public,” says Portland Police Chief, Starr Thomas, “and both school systems have worked diligently with us to make sure we have the tools we need to respond to potential threats.”

According to Thomas, like what was seen in Okemos, active shooter threats in Ionia county involve a massive mobilization of law enforcement from neighboring jurisdictions. “... dispatchers and officers will always attempt to learn as much information as possible…,” says Thomas, but, “there isn't any room to gamble when it comes to the security of our schools and the safety of our students.”

“It is also important to speak to your students about the severe consequences of making false threats against a school building or district,” says Superintendent Heath, “As a district we will pursue the full extent of school progressive discipline available, including expulsion, as well as prosecute to the fullest extent of the law in these circumstances.”

"Threats of violence in our schools disrupt the classroom, tax our local law enforcement agencies and harm our students' sense of safety. Whether these are real threats made by those intent on doing harm or pranks made by kids trying to get a day off, they are real crimes with real consequences,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement to the press. Depending on the particular circumstances, consequences could vary from as few as three months in jail for the misdemeanor of “making a false report of a crime,” up to 20 years in prison for the felony of “communicating a threat of terrorism,” according to the Attorney General’s office. If found guilty some of these crimes also involve up to $50,000 in fines.

If you know of a threat of violence call 911. You can also submit a tip with the State of Michigan’s confidential 24/7 OK2SAY hotline at 8-555-OK2SAY (855-565-2729) or by texting 652729 (OK2SAY).

PHOTO: Courtesy City of Portland Police Department

DISCLAIMER: When not writing for The Beacon, Jordan Smith teaches high school science at St. Patrick Catholic School in Portland.


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