Swatting and School Threats: An Update On Safety From Okaloosa County Sheriff, Superintendent Aims to Dissuade Threats, Contextualize Stats.

Swatting and School Threats: An Update On Safety From Okaloosa County Sheriff, Superintendent Aims to Dissuade Threats, Contextualize Stats.

The Okaloosa County School Districts reports 29 threats against schools across the county this semester, including three threats at Niceville. But what does that mean for parents and students?

As I’ve been out and about the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard the rumors and discussion of threats against Niceville High School in the previous several weeks – so I decided to look into the issue myself. 

According to Okaloosa Schools Public Information Officer Catherine Card, bad actors made two threats against Niceville High School in the thirty days preceding my request (which I made on December 18). 

“We ask folks to remain vigilant, and if they hear or see something, to say something,” Card said in an email, “Safety is paramount, and we will not tolerate hoke threats or otherwise. This behavior is unacceptable, and we strongly urge parents to speak to their children about making remarks that potentially threaten our schools’ safety and the severe consequences of such remarks.”

Deputies arrested one person, and another has an arrest pending concerning threats made against the school. 

“I feel like we’re probably the safest school district in the country,” said Okaloosa Sheriff Eric Aden at a press conference about the arrest of two 14-year-olds for swatting charges at the Baker School. Swatting is the “Action of making a false report of a serious emergency so that a SWAT team (a group of officers trained to deal with dangerous situations) will go to a [a specific location], by someone who wants to frighten, upset, or cause problems for that person,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. ” we’re not going to have the failures that we’ve seen in some of these jurisdictions that some of these places are people understand that they are expected to act immediately. We’re not waiting. And I mean, frankly, again, maybe it’s naive, but I feel that I can, I can probably outmaneuver a kid that’s been gaming any day of the week,” Sheriff Aden added. 

“Our school district as well as school districts across the state of Florida have challenges. But do I believe our school system is safe? Absolutely,” added Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Marcus Chambers at the same press conference, “We have school resource officers at every school, two at our high schools. But that’s a layer; we have a single point of entry at our schools, that’s a layer. We have guardians in our schools; that’s a layer. Our communication devices have been enhanced at the school level to where if we had to call a lockdown anywhere on the perimeter, we have the ability to do so. Our camera systems [are] in conjunction with the sheriff’s office camera systems. So there are many layers that I just spoke about and others that we can’t. But do I believe our schools are safe? Absolutely.”

District-Wide: The Scope of Threats

In total, three threats of violence have been made against Niceville High School this semester. At the District’s 38 schools across Okaloosa County, Okaloosa County representatives confirmed 29 individuals made ‘substantive threats.’ 

A substantive threat means “the intent is present or not clear,” according to the District. Card noted the District uses an evidence-based threat management model adopted by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to recognize and respond to threats. “We investigated all 29 threats (made on social media or a verbal statement), in cooperation with law enforcement. All [threats] were determined to have no defined pathway to carry out the threat,” Card added.

Card added that two threats occurred at Okaloosa Academy, a ‘reform school’ for students who have gotten in trouble for actions at a traditional school. Okaloosa Academy is a charter school under the County’s jurisdiction. Therefore, the District is in charge of reporting those incidents to the state for record-keeping purposes. 

Card told me in a phone call on December 21 that 20 of these 29 threats were made against other individuals at the school and not necessarily threats made against the whole school. 

The other nine documented threats were made against Okaloosa County Schools and are known as ‘substantiated threats’.

It’s important to note that a school shooting, as of December 21, 2023, has never taken place in Okaloosa County. Only three school shootings have taken place in the western Panhandle, according to a compiled data set from the Naval Postgraduate School. Two of the three, in Panama City and in Eastpoint, were accidental discharges and took place in 2016 and 2017. No one was injured. 

The other, in Pensacola in 1976, took place at a race riot at Escambia County High School. Four people were injured, though no one died in the ensuing violence. The riot, instigated by white students over the removal of ‘Colonel Reb’ as the school’s mascot and the integration of the school seven years earlier, involved more than 450 Ku Klux Klansmen and took place over three hours. You can read more about the riot in this New York Times article about the incident. 

Active Shooter Drills

Active shooter drills are common in schools. In 2023. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, some 95% of public schools in the United States drill students on what they call ‘lockdown procedures.’ They add, “Yet, there is almost no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur,” in a report they published on their site. 

The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, passed after a shooting in South Florida in 2018, requires all schools to conduct active shooter and hostage situation and bomb threat drills ‘as least as often as other emergency drills’.

Several people I’ve run into over the course of the last couple of weeks have told me that the school had participated in lockdown drills as a result of these threats. That’s not true, according to Public Information Officer Card. “Schools calendar their drills for the year in advance and NHS had a drill in the last 30 days,” Card said. 

More About School Violence 

According to the United States Department of Justice, school shootings are rare in the United States. “However, today’s students are less likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon, including a gun, at school than they were ten years ago.”

Since 1992, the percentage of youth homicides that occur at school has not changed, comprising less than three percent of the total number of youth homicides. 

Current data do not report on whether the number of school shootings has increased, but student weapon-carrying and weapon-related injuries have decreased. 

The National Center For Education Statistics said 70% of public schools in the United States reported one or more violent incidents – although just 32% of those incidents were reported to sworn law enforcement. The data set provided by The Center noted that there were 19 violent incidents per 1,000 students in 2019-20 and that there were five reported incidents per 1,000 students in the same period. “In 2019, about five percent of students ages 12-18 reported being afraid of attack or harm at school during the school year. 

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul

Christopher Saul is the publisher of Mid Bay News. He graduated from Southern Methodist University's School of Journalism with a Convergance Journalism Degree and a Master's Degree in Public Administration From Florida State.

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