Q: Can you comment on the persistent issue of students and threats of school violence?
A: The main message I want to get out is this: parents, kids … if you see something, say something. Contact the authorities. Never just assume that spoken threats or threats on social media are a joke. These threats are crimes with serious consequences and we always take them very seriously.
Q: Can you elaborate on the crime aspect?
A: There are two primary Florida Statutes that deal with making threats of violence. Both are considered second degree felonies, which are punishable by 15 years in the Florida state prison system.
First, Fla. Statute 836.10 deals with written threats to kill, or do bodily harm or conduct a mass shooting. “Written” includes a letter or an electronic post on social media.
Secondly, Fla. Statute 790.163 deals with making a false report concerning planting a bomb or the use of a weapon in a violent manner. This can be spoken to someone or via a phone call.
Just the act of making a threat, either written or verbally, is a crime. Even if you think or someone says it’s just a joke, it’s a crime. Saying you didn’t mean it or you were joking is not a defense.
Q: Why is this taken so seriously?
A: There are so many consequences to verbal or written threats of violence, even if they are not actually carried out. We always have to take threats seriously, so in the event a written or verbal threat against a school is received, the school will shut down. Law enforcement commits massive resources to working to protect students. Kids may be locked in classrooms and traumatized, not knowing if the threat is real or not. Going forward in their lives after experiencing something so harrowing, mental and emotional trauma often occur.
So, this is no joking matter. We treat each threat as if it’s real — and we need everyone to report what they see and hear.