Last week, several Suffolk County school districts received bomb threats demanding a ransom be paid in bitcoin, though authorities later deemed the threats to be not credible.
Although no North Fork school district received the threats, more than 50 school districts across New York State have been confronted by similar threats recently, according to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office — underscoring the need for ongoing vigilance to protect the area’s students, staff and faculty.
“I want to reassure parents that their children are safe at school — swatting threats are false and intended to cause panic and scare students, teachers and families,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement released April 4. “I have directed the New York State Police to investigate these threats and work closely with all levels of law enforcement to identify the perpetrators, hold them accountable, and restore the sense of safety and security our children deserve.”
“Swatting” is the false reporting of a threat to a particular location with the goal of generating a large law enforcement response, often by a heavily-armed SWAT team.
In the wake of the widespread swatting incidents, three New York State senators, including State Sen. Dean Murray of the 3rd District in Suffolk County, have proposed a bill to upgrade the crime of swatting from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony, which would increase the penalty from up to one year in prison to up to four years.
“Let me be clear, ‘Swatting’ is not funny and it’s not cool,” Sen. Murray said in a press release. “It is dangerous and illegal.”
Authorities investigating the Long Island districts that received the threats determined that they were hoaxes, though no arrests have been made.
Local law enforcement officials, including Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., support the measure.
“These ‘swatting’ incidents are growing more and more common, and they waste public safety resources and misdirect law enforcement personnel that could be saving lives,” the sheriff said in the senators’ statement.
School superintendents from the Mattituck-Cutchogue, Southold and Greenport school districts issued statements to district families confirming that their schools didn’t receive the threats, but assuring parents that the districts are working closely with local law enforcement.
In early March an unidentified man tried to enter both Southold’s elementary and high schools. The individual was unsuccessful and “there was no arrest and no crimes committed, just a suspicious person,” according to a statement at the time from Southold police chief Martin Flatley.
“We will continue to be diligent in enforcing the safety protocols that we have in place,” Southold Superintendent Anthony Mauro wrote in a note to parents. “We will also continue our ongoing dialogue with the SPD and our community regarding safety in our schools.”
In a statement, Riverhead Central School District officials confirmed that they didn’t receive the threat either. However, the district said in a statement that they continue to work with local police departments to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“The district continually reviews its security protocols and procedures, including procedures to be followed when a threat of any sort is made against the district and/or any of our students, faculty or staff,” the statement said. “These protocols include close communication with Riverhead Police and Southampton Police, including a review of our security procedures to be implemented in the event of a threat. For security purposes, the details of these measures must be kept confidential.”
Shoreham-Wading River officials also confirmed they did not receive any threats.