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Not a joke: Education leaders, local law enforcement seeing spike in school threats

Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 05, 2019

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — Local education and law enforcement leaders are fed up and begging for change as the number of school threats in the Tampa Bay area spike to alarming rates.

Since August, law enforcement in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk and Manatee Counties have investigated 181 threats of violence towards schools. They've arrested 47 people, mostly students, since the beginning of the school year.

Kurt Browning, the Pasco Schools Superintendent made an urgent plea on social media this week.

“These threats are no joke and I have had enough," he said in the video posted to Facebook Monday, “It’s time for this community as a whole to stand up and say we will not take this type of behavior anymore.”

In Pasco County alone, the Sheriff's Department tells ABC Action News they've investigated 54 threats and made 11 arrests since August. Superintendent Browning believes the arrests are even higher, at 13 this school year.

Many of the arrested students wrote the threats on social media and told deputies it was meant as a joke.

“Yeah, that’s not to be joked about,” St. Petersburg dad Julian Leonard said when he heard about the spike in threats.

Law enforcement leaders say the charge is a felony and can impact students' lives for years.

“If we can make a charge, we will make that charge. For the kids who think this is a prank or a joke, it isn’t,” explained St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway.

“The consequences can ruin your life,” Browning elaborated in the video posted to Facebook.

Law enforcement and school leaders say they have to take every threat seriously and they're relying on parents to relay the message.

“Mom, dad, please sit down and talk to your child and explain to them this is serious,” Holloway pled.

Here's how the arrests and investigation into threats breaks down into local counties/cities:

Tampa Police Department: They've investigated 72 threats of violence and made 20 arrests over the past two years.

Hillsborough Sheriff's Office: They've investigated 60 school threats since August, 27 of those were within the first 13 days of school.

Pasco Sheriff's Office: They've investigated 54 threats and made 11 arrests since August. (Superintendent Browning believes they've actually at 13 arrests.)

Polk Sheriff: They've made 9 arrests since August, which means in three months they've arrested as many students for threats as they did in the entire previous school year.

St. Petersburg Police Department: They've investigated around 10 threats and made eight arrests since August

Manatee Sheriff's Office: They've investigated 10 threats since August, resulting in five arrests and five juvenile referrals

Pinellas Sheriff's Office: They've made two arrests, although they believe the numbers are much higher because that only includes the arrests made by PCSO and not other law enforcement agencies in the county.