Faced with the challenge of finding a balance between doing nothing but not overreacting, Crookston Police and school district leaders put their heads together Thursday evening in response to various online threats circulating on Facebook and elsewhere that started kind of vague but then got more specific by mentioning schools in Crookston and Fisher.
After consulting with each other, the decision was made to have a police officer posted at each of the three public schools on Friday, which was a half-day before the holiday break commenced. While not being "in your face," as Superintendent Chris Bates said, the squad cars were visible in prominent locations at Washington, Highland and the high school during the morning drop-off and again when school let out around lunchtime.
"It was strictly precautionary, in response to a lot of Internet activity last night, that I think was happening here, region-wide and probably all over the country," Police Chief Tim Motherway told the Times. "There was no credible threat. Investigators were up late last night talking to kids, and determined there was no real threat."
Motherway and Superintendent Chris Bates agreed – after Bates consulted with the three school principals at Thursday evening's hockey and girls' basketball games – that doing nothing probably wasn't the best option, but that, in Motherway's words, "it wouldn't be unreasonable to have a squad" car at each school on Friday.
Apparently, it was some recent high school graduates who were most active on Facebook, and it was them specifying Crookston and Fisher schools in their online conversations that spurred action.
"Sometimes we're thankful that kids act like kids because we're old and have to go to work," Bates said. "But this was a case of young adults not acting as adults. They're 19, 20 years old and the police are aware of who they are and they're going to handle it."
Similar activity and online dialogue elsewhere, some of it tied to the one-week anniversary of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and some tied to the end of the Mayan calendar, has triggered responses stronger than in Crookston. Several school districts, including in Minot, North Dakota, cancelled classes today as a result of various threats.
"You want to avoid an overreaction," Bates said. "We wanted a measured response that wasn't upfront or in your face, but just a 'there' presence on the police's part. The kids seemed very calm about it this morning, and I think the police presence was appreciated by some people."
Bates isn't sure if the reason for the negative activity is what matters most. "No matter the cause, if kids don't feel safe it becomes a question of what are we going to do to help them feel safe," he said.
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