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Fact Check: More Threats of Violence at San Diego Schools

You may have seen news reports on the recent spate of school lockdowns spurred by school bomb or shooting threats. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is on it.

TrueStatement: “Threats of school violence have increased to an alarming rate and individuals need to know they’ll be held responsible if they make such threats,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said in a press release last month.

Determination: True

Analysis: You may have seen news reports on the recent spate of school lockdowns spurred by school bomb or shooting threats.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is on it. She’s supporting a new bill that would make a school shooting threat a specific misdemeanor crime in the state Penal Code.

“Threats of school violence,” she said in an April 13 press release, “have increased to an alarming rate.”

It’s true that school threats are increasing. In two years’ time, the number of students suspended and expelled for making a terrorist threat in San Diego County has risen 35 percent, from 62 in 2011-12 to 84 students in 2013-14, according to data from the state Department of Education first rustled up by our news partners at NBC San Diego.

Statewide figures also show an increase, but at a slower pace of 5 percent during the same period.

So it’s accurate that school threats have gone up. But Dumanis didn’t know that when she sent out her press release.

Initially, her staff offered mostly anecdotal evidence to support the alarming claim, saying it referred less to a specific statistic and more generally to recent news reports.

One statistic that was included in the release – provided by the San Diego Unified School District Police Department – turned out to be inflated. The department said more than 130 threats were made to San Diego Unified schools in the last year. But that number included all threats investigated by San Diego school police in 2014, including common ones like student brawls and threat rumors found to be baseless.

The bill, which is being introduced by Sen. Marty Block (D- San Diego), is SB 456 and could be heard on the Senate floor as soon as Thursday.

If it becomes law, a school firearm threat would become a specific crime subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in county jail. Right now school threats are typically charged under a broader criminal threat statute that requires sustained fear. The new law would remove the fear requirement and require those convicted to pay for any reasonable emergency response costs incurred.

Even though the information upon which Dumanis based her claim was flimsy, state data shows threats of school violence are indeed rising. The recent flow of school lockdown stories doesn’t suggest we’ll see a drop-off this year.

For that reason, Dumanis’ statement about rising threats of school violence is true.

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