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'See something, say something' apps could help police identify threats of violence

Students help St. Pete PD identify threat source
Posted at 3:49 PM, Mar 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-06 17:29:00-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Pete Police announced Tuesday the arrest of a middle school student, charging her with making false threats of violence against her classmates.

Police tell ABC Action News that tips from the community helped them identify the source of the threats.

"We started receiving social media posts of a man holding an assault-style rifle threatening to come to Tyrone Middle School and do violence," explains St. Pete Police spokesperson Sandra Bentil. 

"Our students have great relationships with the SRO's (student resource officers) and our SRO's often times get reports of threats fairly quickly," Bentil adds. 

Threatening messages regarding school shootings have increased dramatically in St. Pete since the Parkland, Florida shooting last month, and since then, tips to police regarding social media threats have ballooned as well.

Ultimately, St. Pete Police determined the 14-year-old Tyrone Middle School student's threat was not legitimate, but Florida lawmakers say they like that students are becoming so vigilance about protecting their community.


14-year-old middle school student arrested for making threats to school

To that end, legislators in Tallahassee are developing a special smartphone app that might make it easier for kids on social media to instantly and anonymously report threats to police.

The proposal has been dubbed by some Parkland, Florida students as the "FortifyFL" app.

The proposal is part of a major school safety reform plan that was approved by the Florida Senate, and is still being considered by Florida's House of Representatives.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has been a vocal advocate for such an app, which she estimated would cost about $100,000 to develop, and several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain and monitor.

There are similar "see something, say something" apps in other states and in fact, St. Pete Police have their own anonymous tip-line as well.

St. Pete Police say community involvement is key, and say they'd much prefer students send social media tips to an app than simply re-sharing the threats on social media.

"That's where the harm is done," says Bentil of St. Pete Police. "In this case, for example, where there was no threat, this resulted in a lot of people being worried about the safety of their children."