Sheriff, SPS talk importance of reporting potential school violence

In a statement released Friday, the FBI announced it neglected to follow up on a tip that the confessed Florida shooter might present a threat.

Shortly before that statement was released, Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies arrested an 11-year old boy who had made threats against Trentwood Elementary School on social media. The threats prompted a modified lockdown of both Trentwood and East Valley Middle School on Friday.

Students are told in school that if they see something, they should talk to teachers or supervisors and, if necessary, law enforcement to address the issue.

In a press conference on Friday, Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he won’t let a potential tip slip through.

“Once we find out, we we will hunt you down, we will find you and if we are going to arrest you,” Knezovich said. “There’s going be a zero tolerance in this county to making these types of threats to your school, to your classmates, so be forewarned. We are no longer playing a game,” he said.

Even if that threat isn’t meant to be real, if a student is just “venting,” the sheriff says it will be taken seriously.

“We no longer live in an environment where we can just kind of – ‘Eh, well, we’ll check on that maybe if something more comes to it,” he said.

The importance of confiding in trusted adults- whether it’s the sheriff, a school resource deputy, a teacher or even a cafeteria worker, is something Knezovich and Spokane Public Schools emphasize.

“We want relationships to be a regular part of the work that we do as adults in Spokane Public Schools,” said Chris Moore, an elementary coordinator with the district.

But for some students, reporting a warning sign to police or even to a teacher is associated with a social stigma. There are now other options.

“We have created a hotline it’s 354- SAFE (7233) and we also have an email address that students can email you can do an anonymous phone call and you can report,” Moore said.

In 2016, a bill was put before the Washington State Legislature that would establish a state-wide anonymous reporting program, modeled after the one used in Colorado, post-Columbine.

Former state representative Kevin Parker (R-Spokane) was a part of that bill, and is a survivor of the Columbine massacre. He says the bill never passed but a new version, that would establish an anonymous reporting app, is back before state lawmakers.