No such thing as an empty threat anymore

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Chief Lee White of the Coeur d’Alene Police Department can almost laugh about the old days when a kid called in a bomb threat hoping to get out of a final exam, or some bonehead set toilet paper in the bathroom on fire.

The chief wasn’t laughing Tuesday morning.

The days when stupid pranks invariably led to no serious harm done are long gone. Modern times have left a bloody trail of slaughtered children and other innocents. Bombings and school shootings are today terrifying realities. That’s why Chief White dispatched a small army of officers Tuesday based on one short phone call to Lake City High School’s front desk, when the caller said a gunman was in the parking lot. The threat turned out to be groundless, but who’s going to risk lives on even the slightest possibility the call could have merit?

There’s your conundrum. But there’s also hope for at least a partial solution.

The problem is that particularly with social media ruling the universe, the means of disseminating threats is broader than ever. Authorities have just one good tool to dissuade people from making threats like Tuesday’s, and it’s capturing and charging the culprits. That’s precisely what appears to have happened Thursday with a student from Lakes Middle School. Hopefully, serious punishment will follow.

With Tuesday’s incident, Idaho Code 18-6710 makes a first offense a misdemeanor when someone uses a phone or other device to “annoy, terrify, threaten, intimidate, harass or offend,” whether the target is an individual, a business, school or any other entity. A first conviction calls for a sentence in the county jail of not more than one year. But subsequent convictions are felonies punishable by up to five years in the state penitentiary.

When you think about how many important resources are wasted every time a threat is leveled, there’s additional danger if police are mobilized in one place when something bad happens elsewhere. Even if the initial threat is bogus, response time in a life-or-death situation farther away could prove lethal.

So what can the average person do to make a difference? Here’s what: Help nail the perpetrators. These aren’t harmless hoaxes; they’re acts of terrorism, no matter how the instigators see them. And they should be dealt with as harshly as the law allows.

If you have any information about the caller Tuesday or the people behind any other threats, please, contact law enforcement immediately. The Coeur d’Alene Police Department number is 208-769-2397.

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