Toughen penalties for threatening mass violence
A bill to be introduced in the state Legislature that would be more definitive on the crime and toughen penalties for those caught making threats of mass violence against schools and other places where groups of people gather is long overdue.
It should be one of the first orders of business when lawmakers return to Albany in January.
The law is being proposed by state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-Marcy, and would create two new crimes for making a threat of mass violence toward the a school, college or university, place of worship, mass gathering of 25 people or more, or a business.
Specifically, the crimes would be:
First-degree making a threat of mass violence. It would be a Class D felony applying to anyone 18 years old or older. Punishment would be a $35,000 fine and a sentence of no less than three years in prison.
Second-degree making a threat of mass violence. This would apply to individuals under 18 years old. The crime would carry a $35,000 fine and a mandatory sentence of 10 days in a juvenile detention facility. Individuals over 18 who make a threat of mass violence against the school they are attending would be charged the same as someone under 18 years old.
Tougher penalties are needed. Not only is the current law ambiguous, but the penalties for lodging a threat are minor, little more than a slap on the wrist. The state’s Penal Law does not explicitly define a threat of mass violence, Griffo says, and this bill would make it clear.
Just recently, police investigated three incidents at Frankfort-Schuyler Jr.-Sr. High School, two of which caused some disruption. The first was a threat discovered Sept. 20 toward the end of the school day. A student reported seeing a threat written on a bathroom wall in one of the middle school bathrooms. It resulted in a controlled dismissal after an initial lock-in-place when a perimeter search by police determined it was safe outside.
On Oct. 2, a student reported seeing a written threat in a high school bathroom that morning. The Middle-High School Building was evacuated to other buildings and students were dismissed at 11:35 a.m. A third bathroom writing was later determined not to be a threat. There was no interruption in the schedule for the school day.
Two juveniles have been charged in connection with the Frankfort threats.
Also on Oct. 2, police responded to Camden High School regarding a report of a threat written on a student’s social media account. A 13-year-old juvenile was later arrested and charged with falsely reporting an incident, a felony, according to the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies found that the threat was not credible.
Students must be allies in this battle. If you see something that’s not quite right, report it. Making threats is serious business. They prey on people’s fears and cost taxpayer dollars, not to mention valuable time of everyone involved – including students whose days are disrupted while threats are investigated. Tougher penalties can send a message.
Griffo said he began working on this legislation shortly after Fahrudin Omerovic phoned in more than a dozen threats of gun violence to Utica College on March 5 and 6, 2018, prompting a campus lockdown and two days of heavy police presence at the college. He was found guilty in December. The former UC student was sentenced to a total of 12 years in state prison, six years on each of two felony counts of making terroristic threats.
Griffo’s bill (S8312) needed a sponsor in the Assembly and Buttenschon agreed to it. It should be a priority when the new session unfolds. Such behavior must not be tolerated.