Texas School Safety Center hosts digital threat assessment workshops

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Images used in the digital threat assessment workshop. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Media Group)

School-based law enforcement officials say time demands and constant changes in social media present ongoing challenges

ROUND ROCK, Texas (Nexstar) — Think about the challenges you face in monitoring your own social media accounts and multiply that task by hundreds or thousands.

That’s the challenge school districts continue to face as they must weed out potential threats to school safety online. 

The Texas School Safety Center, in collaboration with Safer Schools Together, is hosting digital threat assessment workshops across the state.  

Joe Munoz, program manager for school-based law enforcement training at the Texas School Safety Center, says the goal is to have districts on the same page. 

“Social media changes daily, if not hourly, and on our end, to catch things that might be happening, we need to be on top of it,” he said. “The feedback we’ve gotten from school districts is that they want more training more often, so it’s going to be incumbent upon us to provide that training.” 

This comes as the center is also providing training over threat assessment teams, which is now a requirement for all school districts to have under state law. 

School-based police departments, school safety directors and I.T. experts heard from Susan Payne, a Colorado-based expert with almost three decades of experience in law enforcement. Payne founded Safe2Tell, which was developed after Colorado’s Columbine High School shooting. It allows anonymous reporting from students, parents, school staff and community members about anything concerning. She served as special agent in charge of school safety after the Columbine shooting. 

“Everybody needs to be aware of what to look for,” Payne said. “We need for our young people today — they have a cell phone, so they know if they see something online and when they see something on Snapchat or Instagram, how do they use a different device to take a screenshot of that or to video it and to get that to people who can look into it.” 

Hutto ISD Police Chief William Edwards was part of the training in Round Rock on Wednesday. He says the challenges his district faces include the interactions students have online beyond social media platforms. 

“All the way from things we wouldn’t have thought about 10 years ago, like using a Google Doc on a shared server is a means a communication,” he explained. “It’s a dynamic document that individuals can get on, basically type back and forth and see what the other person is doing.” 

Edwards says it can also take time to vet social media posts and accounts. 

“When something comes about on social media, a lot of times, it has a tendency to carry out quicker than what the investigation can keep up with,” he said. 

The training provided by the Texas School Safety Center and Safer Schools Together covered a lot of ground. Participants learned about impersonation accounts on social media, reverse image searching, hashtags and anonymous reporting. Edwards says he relies on the partnerships his district has with other schools, local law enforcement agencies and the Austin Regional Intelligence Center to help monitor what’s taking place online. 

“Training like what we’re going through today gives us one of those edges as far as what’s happening in other geographical areas, other jurisdictions that we can now bring in and get a little bit ahead of the curve as far as those threats before they come in or when they come in,” he said. 

The U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center is expected to release a report in late October studying school shootings and past school shooters.  

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