Campaign warns students about the consequences of fake school threats

Law enforcement agencies across North Texas are teaming up to fight the rise in online threats against schools.

In Tarrant County, the number of tips about possible threats spiked last year. Most were hoaxes but they still caused fear and wasted valuable police time and resources. Several police departments and the FBI, along with the Arlington school district, have launched a campaign called “Fake Threat, Real Regret.”

The idea behind the push is to teach students and their parents the consequences of making a threat. Suspects often face felony charges. The campaign will also help people understand the ability of law enforcement to identify and track down perpetrators.

“People often think that they can remain anonymous using social media online profiles under false names, that is not true,” said Matthew DeSarno, FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge. “Social media companies have begun to collaborate more fully with that FBI and our state and local partners to help us do that.

In 2018 Crime Stoppers of Tarrant County received 104 tips about potential school threats. That number jumped to 183 in 2019.

Last year, Arlington PD made 22 arrests for school threats. Half of them were middle school students.

“Something may be a veiled threat, law enforcement is going to respond and work with school districts and try to ascertain what was the intent of the communication,” said Will Johnson, Arlington Police Chief.

School leaders say there’s also a psychological toll on students processing fear.

“It takes time to recover emotionally from that as well. And then it lends itself to wondering whether that threat is going to happen again,” said Dr. Marcelo Cavazos, Arlington ISD superintendent.

Police say it’s hard to estimate the actual cost to taxpayers in wasted resources used to investigate a hoax, but the cost isn’t only measured in dollars and sense.

“Cops can’t be where they need to be addressing real crime threats whenever they are chasing fake crime threats,” Johnson said.