How Might DeWitt Police Handle Reports of a Student Who Might be a Threat?

Feb 26, 2018

The police chief in DeWitt says numerous entities are ready to jump in to action if there’s a report of someone who might become a threat at a school or in the community at large.  Meanwhile, the debate continues in Florida over what people knew about the shooter and what could have been done to stop him. 

DeWitt police chief John Anton says it all starts with noticing different behavior.  He says it’s important for everyone to work together and be diligent. There are school teachers, counselors and administrators.  Then there’s law enforcement and mental health experts.  Perhaps most importantly, he says are family and friends.

"If just one student, one parent, one brother or sister reaches out and says, 'Yeah, I believe Johnny has these tendencies, plays a lot of shooting games online, has access to weapons, draws these dark, demented photos and are being bullied,' then maybe we can prevent something like that from happening."

Anton says his department receives a call of a school threat about once or twice a year.  When they do, officers meet with school officials, parents, and then the student find out their intent. 

DeWitt Police Chief John Anton.

"If it was a specific threat by a student that involved weapons, we'd ask for permission to go to the student's house or apartment, talk to the parents there.   Does the student have access to guns, weapons, can we check the student's bedroom; can we look at the student's computer, their phone, to see if there's behavior out of the ordinary.  Are they researching stuff on the internet."

Anton says if a student is an immediate threat to themselves or others, they can be arrested, charged, and ordered to receive a psychological evaluation or additional mental health services.  But he says it doesn’t stop there.  Police and others will follow-up to make sure the behavior hasn’t returned, and if expelled, make sure the student doesn’t repeat the pattern at that or another school. 

In addition to spotting and following up on suspicious behavior, there’s also been plenty of debate over what can be done at the school if there’s an active threat.  Anton isn’t sure yet how he feels about arming teachers.  But he strongly believes a uniformed and armed school resource officer can be a first line of defense on many fronts.

"Sometimes kids will pass in the hallways, and they'll tell this cop, 'John is writing this stuff in his notebook, I've seen photos on his phone, or he posted this on Snapchat, he's got a gun.'  These students need to know that 'see something, say something' really works."

Anton says just one report of questionable behavior might be all it takes…

"A lot of times, it seems like these shootings could have been prevented.  Because, 'I'm not surprised that Johnny did this,' or, 'I'm not surprised Sammy went in...he always talked about it.'  Well, there's a disconnect there. "

Members of the Jubilee Initiative gather in prayer at Willow Bay in Onondaga Lake Park the Saturday after the Parkland, FL school shooting.
Credit Lileana Pearson / WAER News