Police partner with local school districts to determine validity

Published 9:46 am Friday, November 2, 2018

NILES — Local police are major partners when it comes to helping school districts evaluate and investigate threats made to the student body. This year alone, several tips have led police to look into a handful of threats from a “vague” message written on a graphing calculator at Niles High School to a Niles man who made a false call about a potential shooter at Eau Claire High School.

Berrien County Deputy Sheriff Kelly Laesch said it is police officers’ prerogative to investigate any and all claims of a threat and the consequences those who make up a threat can be serious. In addition to her duties as an officer, Laesch is the coordinator of the Crime Prevention programs and also serves on the Buchanan Community Schools Board of Education.

“I think in law enforcement, you basically check everything out,” Laesch said. “Any threat would be considered a threat. It’s all serious to us.”

Early this week, Niles High School officials and the Niles Police Department took action on investigating a threat on a school-used device that stated, “Be ready to be scared, November 1st.” Police deemed the threat not credible, but were continuing to investigate who created the message, as of Thursday morning.

Laesch said even when a school receives a message that does not appear to be a direct threat, such as a message that might say, “watch out,” it initiates police to get involved.

When it comes to determining if a threat is not credible, Laesch said it takes time and force effort to fully investigate.

“[We] obviously [will be] doing a full investigation, finding leads and talking to people,” Laesch said. “We are going to do our best [and] talk to parents, look at social media. If it is something with phones, we seize phones. We are going to do everything possible.”

Even if the threat is found not to be credible, the culprit could receive punishment, based on the situation.

“There’s no tolerance for that stuff nowadays and most school policies have that in there,” Laesch said. “Even if it is a joke, they take it seriously.”

Depending on the threat and situation, charges can be pressed. Laesch cited an instance earlier this year when Justin Alen Bashore, 32, of Niles, allegedly placed a false call stating that there was a gunman at Eau Claire High School. Bashore was charged with false reporting of a felony.

Laesch said each threat is thoroughly investigated. She commended local schools for acting swiftly when they get information about a threat. 

“Schools do a really good job of not taking this lightly,” she said.

Following the threat made this week at the high school, administrators sent out a letter to parents to share the information and discuss district protocol. Niles Community Schools District Superintendent Dan Applegate visited the school Thursday morning. Applegate said security resources were also present Thursday, including a school resource officer and NCS Director of Student Services Tracy Hertsel.

Just like any day, Applegate said parents could choose to call and excuse their child from school if they had a legitimate reason for doing so.

Karen Weimer, the superintendent for Brandywine Community School District, said administrators also work with local law enforcement to report any threats and determine credibility. 

Weimer said they encourage students to report anything suspicious. 

“We want them to talk to us administrators,” Weimer said, “or someone they trust, whether [that might be the] the custodian, their bus driver, any trusted adult.”

If students do not feel comfortable talking to an adult, both Niles and Brandywine school districts use OK2SAY, a confidential way to report student concerns about weapons, threats, drugs, bullying or anything else that threatens their safety. Students may call 8-55-OK2SAY (855-565-2729) or text TIPS 652729 (OK2SAY). They may also visit Michigan.gov/ok2say.

As a coordinator for the Crime Prevention programs, Laesch also encouraged schools to reach out to her to provide information to students. Through the programs, Laesch visits schools across the district to talk about subjects like bullying and school safety. Those interested in finding out more can call Laesch at (269) 983-7141 extension 7221.

“You can’t live your life in fear, but educate yourself,” Laesch said.