ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The tragedy in South Florida is creating a panic and fear online that law enforcement agencies say has been unprecedented when compared to previous school shootings.
Social media is the first thing many of us check in the morning and now law enforcement is seeing more and more tips about potential threats being shared online.
The St. Petersburg Police Department said they have “all hands on deck,” making sure every tip they receive is investigated and ruled credible or fake and it is a daunting task.
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With so many different types of social media, police say it makes tracking the original source of the post difficult.
“People are frightened and rightfully so,” Assistant Police Chief Antonio Gilliam said.
Gilliam is over the Investigative Services Bureau. He said officers that normally work undercover tracking cybercrime, child pornography and other high profile cases are now taking time out of their day to make track tips.
Additionally, each tip has an impact on the entire force. Gilliam said patrol officers, detectives, school resource officers, the 911 call center, non-emergency line, and public information officers are all fielding tips and investigating them.
“I don’t want to say it takes away from one thing or another, but it can become taxing, that’s the biggest thing; that’s the biggest message,” Gilliam said. “We don’t have time to deal with the false threats and try to filter the false threats and try to find those true threats.”
Despite not having the time, officers are responding to those fake threats. On Monday, St. Pete police started receiving calls from concerned parents about a Snapchat image. It was from another state and being circulated online.
The parent thought it referenced Northeast High School in St. Pete. But, it was for a school in Maryland. Authorities made an arrest in Maryland and the threat was deemed fake.
Before creating a panic online, police are urging concerned citizens to call them first or send them the information so they can investigate and let the public know what’s going on.
“We want information to be fed to us,” Gilliam said. “What we don’t want are false reports. When people knowingly spread false rumors or when people spread rumors that are not vetted at all.”
Agencies across the country are strained. But, Gilliam said they’ll follow up on every tip to make sure students and teachers are safe.