Palm Beach County School police warn of increased threats and violence on campus


The Palm Beach County School District warns of increased threats to schools and violence on campus as children return to class after post-pandemic isolation.

A letter to parents, sent at the end of October, warns of a “significant increase in the number of threats against school campuses made via social networks, texts, gaming platforms and written notifications”.

“Across the country, in all school districts, we are seeing more activity in terms of threats. We’re seeing more activity in terms of fighting on campus, ”School District Police Chief Dan Alexander said in an interview with CBS12 News.

In a recent newsletter, the Department of Homeland Security warned that pandemic isolation can be a significant risk factor for students who might consider committing an act of violence in school. Mental health experts also point to pandemic stresses, such as social and financial hardship, which can trigger students already in crisis.

Alexander explained that the district has what he calls “global resources,” including trained mental health counselors at every campus in the district and teachers with similar training to help struggling students. He encouraged anyone with mental health issues to contact trusted professionals at the school.

The chief also added that there had been a noticeable increase in violent crime nationwide and said some of it was seeping into schools. He urged every parent or student who sees or hears of a threat to a school to report it, using new apps like FortifyFL and SaferWatch.

Both apps collect tips and send them directly to the school’s police command center, known as the Tactical Operations Center, or TOC. CBS12 News made a rare visit to TOC, which tracks almost everything in the district, including real-time positioning of school buses and school police.

The TOC also has live feeds from every security camera for each of the more than 180 schools in the district. Chief Alexander said the district has also seen an increase in campus violence, such as brawls, in recent months.

“If we know we have an incident that’s breaking down, we want to see if we can have eyes [on it]Alexander told CBS 12 News.

The Washington Post found that gun crime is particularly on the rise in schools across the country. The National Association of School Resource Officers told the Post that 97 incidents of firearms have been reported in schools so far this year, up from 29 in 2019.

“You will have kids posting pictures of themselves with a gun, saying not to go to school tomorrow,” said Major Michael Waites, a law enforcement veteran whose School Police Behavioral Services Unit investigates all threats to local schools.

Update. WAITES: Imagine that you are at home. It’s a Friday night, Saturday night and at 3 a.m. you have the school police and any local agency saying “Hello, we need to talk to your kid, get him out of bed. “.

JAY O’BRIEN: And does it happen often?

WAITES: More often than you think.

Waites said most of the parents he met had no idea what their child was doing or saying online. Most children, he says, claim the threat was a joke. But, in the state of Florida, most threats to a school reach the level of second-degree felony.

“And once it’s done, that’s it, it’s a crime,” Waites said.

School district police encourage parents to stay involved with what their child says and does both in school and online. Staying involved, officials said, is key to making sure your child is making the right choices.

JAY O’BRIEN: How many of these problems could have been avoided if a parent was just a little more engaged?

CHIEF ALEXANDER: Lots of them.