Suffolk police have responded to 16 threats of violence against schools since a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, prompting law enforcement authorities Friday to announce heightened security measures and enhanced training protocols.
In Nassau County, there have been 33 threats against schools since the Uvalde massacre, including one arrest in Westbury, police spokesman Det. Lt. Richard Lebrun said Friday.
The threats in Suffolk have resulted in the arrest of four students in the past two weeks. Students have been arrested for making threats against schools in Bellport, Westhampton Beach and Riverhead. A dozen other threats in Suffolk were determined to be noncriminal, police said.
The latest arrest came Friday, when police detained a 15-year-old Bay Shore teen who threatened, during an Instagram Live post, to "remake Texas" at Commack Middle School.
The May 31 post was seen by a middle school student who informed her mother. The parent called school officials who contacted police.
The teen, who was not identified because of his age and is not a student at the school, was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat and second-degree aggravated harassment. He was scheduled to be arraigned in Family Court Friday.
Acting Suffolk Chief of Detectives John Rowan said an investigation determined the teen had no weapons or means to carry out the threats.
"We're being proactive. We take every single one of these threats seriously," Rowan said during a news conference in Yaphank coinciding with National Gun Violence Awareness Day. " … I want to stress to all parents and students that actions have consequences. And these cases will be investigated. And they will be prosecuted."
With police responding to threats on a near daily basis, county officials announced new active shooter mobilization drills, including one on Saturday at Greenport High School, and tabletop exercises to prepare law enforcement for a potential emergency inside Suffolk schools.
"At this current time, we have no credible threats here in Suffolk County," said Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison. "But what I will not allow for this police department to do any type of reactive policing."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said many school districts have signed onto the RAVE mobile app and SHARE initiative — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — which are each designed to allow police to rapidly respond to emergencies.
Since its implementation in 2018, a total of 52 Suffolk school districts and 17 private schools have signed up for RAVE, a smartphone system that allows teachers and administrators to call 911 and simultaneously alert other authorities about an active-shooter situation, officials said.
Meanwhile, 31 school districts have registered with SHARE, connecting their camera systems directly to the police department, allowing authorities to receive real-time video camera feeds, maps and images from inside the building.
And thus far in 2022, Suffolk has conducted two active shooter presentations at schools, 16 school lockdown drills, six presentations at churches and 14 active shooter vulnerability assessments for businesses, Bellone said.
"While we hope never to have to utilize these safety initiatives that have been put in place, it's important for everyone to know that the tools to reduce response time in an active shooter situation are in place," Bellone said.
Pat Beckley, commissioner of Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, said several districts signed on to RAVE since the massacres in Uvalde and Buffalo, when a gunman, targeting Black shoppers, killed 10 people at a supermarket. In total, 433 schools are registered in the RAVE system, he said.
"It's just another step in ensuring that our residents are safe," Beckley said.
Yiendhy Farrelly, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said educators are also focused on the mental health needs of students, including hiring additional social workers and psychologists.
"We are about educating our students," said Farrelly, who doubles as superintendent of the West Babylon School District. "We're about supporting our students. We're about ensuring that all of our students have a sense of belonging and have the necessary support that they need."
In Nassau, police have also beefed up security patrols in hundreds of schools and will keep them in place in the weeks to come. Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder also performed security assessments on most of the county’s 450-plus public school buildings immediately after Uvalde.
“I’d like to tell you we could protect everybody and every moment of the day,” Ryder said at a news conference in the days following the mass shooting in Texas. “Impossible, but the more preventive work that we do prevents them from conducting their acts against us.”