Fort Wayne Police: File a report if you see Facebook, other social media threats

This photo posted on the Instagram account listed to Nikolas Cruz's name shows a weapon being held. Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday the day after opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Instagram via The Associated Press)

The six Fort Wayne Police Department school resource officers were on alert Thursday, a day after a 19-year-old man allegedly opened fire in a Florida high school from which he’d been expelled, killing at least 17 and wounding others.

FWPD had no reports of any threats in local schools as of early Thursday morning. Part of the school resource officers’ jobs is to get to know students, said Jim Seay, FWPD spokesman.

“They establish relationships with these kids,” he said.

Keeping schools safe

Schools have established security procedures while in session, with many, if not all, public schools requiring visitors to talk to staff through an intercom before doors are unlocked.

During Fort Wayne Community Schools’ school ongoing renovation projects, schools are being equipped with security vestibules with two sets of doors so people who enter through the outer doors still must be allowed through a second set of doors before reaching school hallways.

The renovations often also include upgrades to security camera systems, and all schools have been getting safety locks on classroom doors.

See something, say something

Edginess in schools is understandable while people nationwide comment on the Florida killings and look at images of a gun posted on an Instagram account listed in the suspect’s name.

Fort Wayne Community Schools left it up to individual schools and principals to decide Thursday whether to have any discussion with students about Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida, said Melanie Hall, FWCS director of public affairs.

The Department of Homeland Security has promoted If You See Something, Say Something, but seeing threatening material on social media isn’t enough for local police to act.

“We tell them to file a report,” Seay said. “… Most of what you see is hearsay at best.”

A judge is not going to issue a warrant based solely on information seen on social media, Seay said.

“People use false names,” Seay said.

If FWCS becomes aware of threats made online by students or others, security staff assess the threat to determine if it is credible, Hall said. If a threat is deemed credible, FWCS reports it to police.

Just this month police investigated a report filed about perceived threats someone saw on Snapchat accounts listed as belonging to members of Luers’ baseball team. A report filed Feb. 6 said the Snapchat accounts discussed a stolen sweatshirt to which another student replied “that he should shoot up the school,” according to the report. It also listed specific names of teachers and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades as targets.

“Throughout the conversation, it appeared as if the statements were just boys being boys,” according to the report.

Police found the two boys who discussed the shooting did not have access to guns, Seay said, so no police action was taken against either. An officer informed the school’s principal, according to the report. The Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend told News-Sentinel.com it doesn’t discuss publicly how it handles disciplinary matters in its schools.

And Big Brother isn’t set up in the FWPD and looking randomly through social media accounts. However, gang unit and homicide detectives do keep their eyes on some accounts, “but they have to have a suspect,” Seay said.

“A sadist’s playground”

Many people don’t think twice about what they post online, said Michelle Drouin, a psychology professor at IPFW (Purdue Fort Wayne) and senior research scientist at Parkview Research Center who studies the effects of technology on literacy, communication and relationships.

“You’re reading this all in your own voice in your own world like a diary,” Drouin said.

People get accustomed to posting various aspects of their lives, such as what they eat and are doing on vacation.

John Suler, professor of psychology at Rider University, has written about the disinhibition effect, Drouin said.

Social media users can be anonymous and don’t have to see the effects on other people of what they say online.

“It’s a sadist’s playground,” she said. “They don’t have to see the pain they cause others.”

The law and social media

What people say online, though it may appear illegal to some, isn’t if it’s just fantasy.

Drouin cited the 2012 arrest of a former New York police officer who wrote online about wanting to torture, kill and commit cannibalism. An appeals court overturned his conviction.

“The judge said these are only thought crimes,” Drouin said. “That was kind of a monumental step in law.”

Social media does not appear to lead to more illegal activity but it can create what Drouin calls “a billboard of forensic evidence” of “social missteps.”

People offended by what someone says can go through the poster’s history to search for what they would see as a pattern of behavior.

Students who post inappropriate things will find that those words and images exist online forever.

“Once it’s there, it’s there.”

Drouin has found that laws haven’t caught up with technology.

“We need to look at changes in public policy,” she said.

For example, in her co-research on sexting laws, she found that many states were applying old child pornography laws to situations where those involved were in a relationship.

While mediums might change – Facebook, Snapchat – the behaviors won’t, Drouin said.

-Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com contributed to this report.

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