‘Very disruptive:’ Prince William Co. police chief details who’s behind most school threats

Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia have received 46 threats so far this year, and historically, a majority of those threats were made by students, county police chief Peter Newsham told the school board Tuesday night.

During a presentation on school safety and security, Newsham said the county has a comprehensive threat assessment program, and “in the majority of those cases, those threats come from students that are attending the schools.” In the 2021-22 school year, the county reported 126 threats to its schools, Newsham said.

School board member Loree Williams said the board recommended a broad safety update aimed at consolidating information for parents and families.

“Every time we have an incident, it got me to really thinking,” Williams said. “We do this all the time, but we don’t do it in a manner that’s concise.”

In the case of threats, Newsham said, “oftentimes, it was a young person doing something that young people do — not thinking and acting.”

It’s “very disruptive for children to have those threats,” Newsham said. “(It) can be traumatic to kids to have to experience those threats or to see those threats. And we have to take the threats very seriously and we do.”

Through October of this school year, Newsham said, three juveniles and two adults have been arrested in schools. Twelve weapons, which include five guns, a stun gun, four knives and two razor/box cutters, have been recovered. Last year, the county reported 14 arrests in schools and 24 weapon recoveries, including nine guns.

Newsham also touted the county’s 24 school resource officers, and said they’re particularly valuable in high schools.

“We can look at the experience in Alexandria, Virginia,” Newsham said. “There were elected leaders that legislated that they didn’t want to have school resource officers in school. Shortly thereafter, there was a major incident at one of the schools, and next thing you know, the elected leaders had to reverse that decision.”

In October 2021, the Alexandria City Council voted to reinstate the SRO program, which had been removed earlier that year for budgeting reasons. The reinstatement came after several fights, a brawl and two incidents involving weapons at the city’s only high school.

Prince William County police, Newsham said, are trained in violent scenarios as recruits and undergo what’s called tactical emergency care training regularly. In the event of an extreme event, such as the shooting in a Uvalde, Texas, school earlier this year, Newsham said the department is prepared.

“I can’t tell you I don’t lose sleep thinking about these things, because I do. But that’s why I’m confident that you have a police department here in Prince William County that has the ability to effectively respond. If something like this happens.”

Meanwhile, Ron Crowe, the county’s director of risk management and security services, said the county has created standard security protocols for football games and other after-hours events. With several new positions filled, the school system has 104 full-time employees “dedicated to school safety and security just this year.”

The county is also working to upgrade its school security systems for cameras, Crowe said, and is conducting annual school safety assessments. It requires staff to wear high-visibility vests and have radios during drop-off and dismissal, and updates its crisis response plan for all schools every year.

Board votes to approve 2023-24 calendar

The school board also voted to adopt the 2023-24 school year calendar Tuesday night.

School will start on Aug. 21 and end June 7.

The 2023-24 school year calendar for Prince William County, Virginia. (Courtesy Prince William County Public Schools)

A majority of the 9,000 people who responded to a September poll of calendar choices favored the option the board voted to adopt, School Board Chairman Babur Lateef said.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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