Similar Terror Threats Lead to Different Responses in LA, NY

Authorities reacted to nearly identical email threats in opposite ways.

The two biggest school districts in the country reacted very differently after receiving similar threats Dec. 15

Officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District and the New York City Department of Education received emails that used nearly identical wording to warn of jihadist attacks and bombs, according to the New York Times.

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton came to the conclusion that the threat was not credible after discovering it at 5 a.m. and schools remained open, while officials in L.A., who discovered the threat the previous evening, decided to close down their district.

The threats were deemed a hoax by the FBI later in the day and both districts’ schools continued with regular class schedules Dec. 16. Both threats had been routed through a server in Frankfurt, Germany, and authorities believe they came from the same person.

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Following New York’s decision, Mayor Bill de Blasio said “it’s important, very important not to overreact in situations like this.”

But Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck defended the decision to close the district’s 1,100 schools, which was ultimately made by LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results that the deciders could have never known… These are tough times, Southern California has been through a lot in recent weeks,” Beck said, referring to the mass shooting in San Bernardino Dec. 2. In the investigation of the San Bernardino attack authorities are still trying to determine if the shooters were also targeting schools.

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Officials in both districts made their decisions without knowing that officials on the opposite coast were dealing with a similar threat.

A spokesman for the New York Police Department said the emails to both LA and NY officials “Were the exact same with the exception of putting in the cities’ names and changing the number of people who were supposed to be participating in it.”

In Los Angeles, the person who sent the email claimed to have 32 jihadist friends that would attack the district’s schools with bombs, nerve gas and rifles, according to Los Angeles Representative Brad Sherman. In New York, the person who sent the email claimed to have 138 jihadist friends.

In both emails the author claimed to be an observant Muslim, but there were flaws in the email language that led de Blasio to characterize the threat as “so generic and so outlandish,” according to CNN. Both emails used the word ‘Allah’ several times, but in one instance the word wasn’t capitalized, a seemingly major error for a deeply religious person.

One of the things that concerned LA authorities was that the author used the district’s full name, showing a familiarity with the school system. “Just because parts of the email are false doesn’t mean it’s all false,” said Representative Sherman. Superintendent Cortines initially ordered all of the district’s schools be searched before reopening, but later declared them safe after most school buildings had been deemed clear.

LAUSD uses the Los Angeles School Police Department for school security. The LASPD is the largest independent school police department in the nation, with more than 350 sworn police officers, 126 non-sworn school safety officers and 34 civilian support staff.

The New York City Police Department School Safety Division is a division of the NYPD that provides security to the city’s schools. The division has around 5,000 school safety agents and 200 police officers.

About the Author

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Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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