CUMBERLAND — Twenty-two officials from law enforcement, education and the government met at the Allegany County Board of Education’s central office Monday to discuss ways to increased penalties for those who make bomb threats at schools.
“We have dealt with too many bomb threats over the years. I believe there needs to be more severe consequences,” said Allegany County Superintendent of Schools David Cox.
“Some people see this as a prank,” said school board member Mike Llewellyn.
“On the day of the shootings at Sandy Hook we had a bomb scare. It sent chills down my spine,” Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn has spearheaded a push to have teens from age 13 and up to be charged as an adult for making bomb threats. Monday’s meeting included, in addition to members of the school board and the law enforcement officials, Allegany County State’s Attorney Mike Twigg and the members of the District 1 legislative delegation.
Delegate Kevin Kelly distributed a copy of the current law regarding jurisdiction of juveniles.
The law specifically states a juvenile court does not have jurisdiction if a minor is at least 14 for a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Adult court can try someone of at least 16 for a range of crimes from abduction and kidnapping to rape, murder, robbery and more. Bomb threats were not included under the laws.
Bomb threats are typically made by phone, computer or by notes left in the schools.
The board reported having 12 bomb threats last year.
“We caught nine,” said the board’s Coordinator for Safety, Security and Risk Management Robert Farrell. It was revealed at the meeting that many times the punishment is community service.
School board officials talked about the demands placed on law enforcement, including bringing in specialized dogs to search schools.
“We can’t afford to lose this much instructional time. Our supreme punishment is expulsion, which may not be for an extended amount of time. For some kids being put out of school is not a punishment but a reward,” said board member Edward Root.
“We need something that will have a bigger impact. Now they will have to see a (law) master and they keep going,” said Farrell.
Three suggestions came from the discussion: Adding bomb threats, by including them under arson, to the list of offenses by a minor punishable as an adult; a request to approach the Circuit Court judges to consider handling offenders instead of a law master; and a request of Twigg to survey the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association for input and support on the topic.
“Caroline County didn’t have the (bomb threat) problem too often and they’ve suggested to make the bomb threat a form of an arson charge that could be treated as an adult crime,” said Twigg.
Delegate LeRoy Myers showed concern about understanding the reasons behind the crime.
“The reasons are all over the spectrum. Bad home life, they want attention, they really mean it ... no two are going to be alike. You have to ask why did he do it and should they be given a second chance? That’s what concerns me,” said Myers.
“There needs to be an element of discretion. We want to turn kids around; We don’t want to discard them,” said Root.
There are currently laws in place that could fine parents up to $10,000 to cover costs.
“Holding the parents financially accountable is a good thing,” said Root.
Kelly encouraged tougher community service.
“The work has to be strenuous. It needs to be something that is not pleasant to do,” said Kelly.
“I remember when they washed police cars with officers there. Letting them be around authority figures is good,” he added.
The group also discussed sexual predators being on a school’s property.
“Do we need a law on this,” asked Cox.
“You don’t need a new law. They are not allowed on school property,” said Kelly.
Cumberland Chief of Police Charles Hinnant told the group about charges levied on a recent registered sex offender who was found on school property without permission.
“We just charged a sexual offender for being at a school and they are being held on a $250,000 bond. I think this sends a message,” said Hinnant.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.