In response to the most recent mailed letter threat to several Rhode Island school districts, Rep. Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown) said he plans to prefile legislation for the 2015 General Assembly session to address threats of harm to schools and school children.
For the second time in about a month, schools in Cranston, Johnston and Warwick last week received a letter threatening harm against school children in those communities. State Police and U.S. Postal Service officials continue to investigate, searching for the anonymous letter writer.
Representative Craven said he plans to introduce legislation making such threats a felony. Certain actions against schools, such a bomb threats, are currently a felony while other kinds of threats, such as these letters, are a misdemeanor offense. Representative Craven said his legislation will make any and all threats against schools or school children a felony, which carries a much stiffer penalty than a misdemeanor.
“Whoever is sending these letters is, in my opinion, a terrorist,” said Representative Craven. “Whether it is specifically the intent or not, what this individual is doing is terrorizing children, their parents, the school community and the entire community. The response to that kind of action should be as strong and severe as possible.”
In addition to seeking to increase the penalty for such actions to felony status, Representative Craven said he will also propose establishment of a contingency fund to help pay for increased police details at schools in the wake of such threats. If a perpetrator is located, prosecuted and found guilty, part of the punishment meted out will be financial responsibility to reimburse the contingency fund for costs associated with protection details for the schools.
Representative Craven, a former Assistant Attorney General in Rhode Island, said he would also like to see a process established – similar to the Amber Alert system – to immediately notify parents or guardians of school children if or when any kind of threat is made toward schools or school children.
“Parents of children in our schools should not be finding out about these situations from news reports,” said Representative Craven. “A notification process needs to be established to immediately alert parents of school children whenever there is a substantive threat made. As a parent myself, I know how parents worry about their children and I know these kinds of threats could lead to pandemonium and hysteria, which is only going to increase parents’ fears and worries. Some sort of official, immediate outreach could help to ease the situation.”
Representative Craven said that while protecting the children and finding the perpetrator are top priorities in cases such as this, calming the fears of parents is also important. “There have been two threats in Rhode Island in the past month. Whether credible of not, those instances, juxtaposed with the recent tragedy at the school in Washington and too many other such incidents, demand that we take affirmative action.”
Representative Craven, who is serving his first term in the House of Representatives, chairs the House Committee on Municipal Government and is a member of the House Committee on Judiciary and the House Committee on Small Business