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Los Angeles Public Schools Closed In Wake Of ‘Unspecified Threats’

Los Angeles Public School Bus

Every public school in Los Angeles has been closed in the wake of an unspecified threat:

Officials closed all Los Angeles Unified School District campuses Tuesday morning after receiving a “credible threat” of violence involving backpacks and packages left at campuses.

Authorities said they plan a search operation of all the LAUSD’s more than 900 schools. The nation’s second-largest school district has more than 700,000 students.

“I think it’s important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said.

The move comes less than two weeks after two shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino in what was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 1

Fearing the safety of schools and students, Cortines said he couldn’t take a chance, so he asked police to search all campuses, adult school and early education centers before reopening Wednesday.

Officials said the threat came in electronic form and was made to numerous but unspecified campuses. As a result, they made the decision to close them all for the day.

The Los Angeles Police Department and FBI were assisting with the threat investigation, said Los Angeles School Police Chief Steve Zipperman.

“The threat is still being analyzed,” he said. “We have chosen to close our schools today until we can be sure our campuses are safe.”

At this point, it’s unclear exactly what the nature of the threat might have been or why authorities felt it necessitated the closing of an entire urban public school system in a move that impacts nearly 700,000 students, their parents, teachers, staff, and of course law enforcement. Typically, of course, terrorists of recent vintage do not call in their threats and the information has been released so far make it sounds as if these were threats that were received by authorities of imminent action rather than an intercept of intelligence that led them to believe something might happen. In the wake of recent events, though, including not just recent terror attacks but also mass shooting incidents, it seems as though authorities could not afford to not be as vigilant as possible. Additionally, the fact that school was nearly ready to start for the day, the authorities had only a short period of time before the school day began and likely felt pressure to act quickly rather than being presented with information later in the day that necessitated evacuating schools in the wake of threats that were now deemed to be credible.

In any case, dealing with this sounds like it will be a logistical nightmare. School authorities said at a press conference this morning that they intended to search every public school for suspicious packages or material, and while this seems reasonable it’s worth noting that were talking about hundreds of schools and school buildings and it’s unclear how law enforcement would even begin to approach a search such as this. Additionally, there are hundreds of buses that transport students to and from school, and those vehicles may end up also being searched, adding to the burden on authorities.

Over on Twitter, Ross Douthat from The New York Times makes this point:

The point, of course, is that this decision to shut down a major urban school system over a handful of unspecified threats demonstrates both how much of a hair trigger many parts of the country are on at this point, and the dangers of overreaction to what may, after all, turn out to be a hoax. Paranoia is not a good way to deal with situations like this even in the wake of what happened in Paris and San Bernardino

UpdateMore from The New York Timesincluding the news that similar threats were received in New York City but the decision was made that to keep the schools open:

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles public schools were abruptly shut down and students sent home on Tuesday after the police received what officials described as a credible bomb threat against the nation’s second-largest school system, throwing into disarray the lives of millions of Angelenos — students, parents, teachers and other school staff members.

The threat was made electronically, and it was explicitly “to students at schools,” said Ramon C. Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said “some of the details talked about backpacks and other packages.”

But Mr. Cortines declined to say more about the nature of the threat or how it was received. The Los Angeles Police Department and the F.B.I. were investigating.

“It was not to one school, two schools or three schools — it was many schools, not specifically identified,” Mr. Cortines, wearing a gray sweatshirt, said at a news conference shortly after 7 a.m. “I am not taking the chance of bringing children any place, into any part of the building, until I know it is safe.”

Mr. Cortines and other officials said the schools would remain closed until the police and school administrators had searched every building to make sure the campuses were safe. But the logistical task involved is immense, as is the potential for chaos: The Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 640,000 students, enrolled in 900 schools and 187 public charter schools, sprawling across more than 720 square miles.

The district asked parents not to send their children to school, and ordered most employees to stay away, but many were already on their way, or even at school, when the order to close was made. Mr. Cortines and other officials said that the children were being kept out of the buildings, and asked parents to pick them up at school gates. Much of the district’s fleet of big yellow buses had already begun its morning rounds, before being told to turn back.

New York City officials said that they had received a similar threat to schools on Tuesday, but had concluded that it was a hoax. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday morning he was “absolutely convinced” that there was no danger to schoolchildren in New York.

“Our schools are safe,” the mayor said. “Kids should be in school today. We will be vigilant. But we are absolutely convinced our schools are safe.”

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton, speaking at a news conference alongside the mayor, said that threats were often made against New York City schools and htat they were assessed on a case by case basis. There was no indication, he said, that the threat made Tuesday morning was credible.

The Los Angeles school closings came as the region remained on edge after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino less than two weeks ago that left 14 people dead and 22 wounded. Over the past two weeks, there have been a number of bomb threats. But the authorities treated this one differently.

“This is a rare threat,” Mr. Cortines said. “We get threats all the time.” Though he would not elaborate on why this one prompted such a strong response, he cited circumstances like the San Bernardino massacre and other events around the world, an apparent reference to incidents like Islamic State attacks in Paris.

The difference in the manner in which the threats were treated appears to be due at least in part to the threat that in New York City the initial threat assessment was performed by the New York City Police Department whereas it was school authorities who made the initial threats in Los Angeles. In that regard, the NYPD, which has a long history now of dealing with terrorism related threats, says that it made the determination that the threats were not credible. It’s also being reported that the threats were apparently received via e-mail and appeared to have come from overseas and made references to Islamist/Jihadist terrorism. As others have noted, though, groups like ISIS and others almost never make threats, instead they tend to take responsibility after attacks have taken place. In any case, it was likely in the wake of Paris and San Bernardino, as well as the time pressures involved, that led authorities to make their snap decision. If it turns out that there was no real threat, then they are likely to be second guessed, but I’m not sure that’s the appropriate reaction under the circumstances. In this day and age, unfortunately, you can’t just assume that a phone call about a bomb in a school is being made by some kid pulling a prank, or trying to get out of a test, and it’s easier to apologize for a false alarm than be the person who received a threat before a tragedy and didn’t act on it fast enough.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    Somewhere out there a 14 year old is reconsidering whether taking the test and facing his dad would not have been the easier way out.

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  2. CSK says:

    The New York City public school system got what’s described as the same threat. DeBlasio and Bratton have said it’s a hoax.

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  3. Scott says:

    However, this is one of those damned if you do or damned if you don’t situations. I won’t criticize.

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  4. C. Clavin says:

    Apparently NYC received the same threat…from a German IP adress…and deemed it a hoax.
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/latest-los-angeles-unified-schools-closed-due-threat-35775281
    The last thing we need is more ammunition for the islamaphobes.
    https://www.rt.com/usa/325922-hate-crimes-muslims-mosques/
    Of course the people behind this hatred and irrational fear are not interested in reason and/or facts…so it probably doesn’t matter what is really behind this…only what Trump tells them is behind it.
    Ross Douthat is one of the major fear-mongerers…and another one who refuses to hold christianity to the same standards he does islam.

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  5. Yes I just updated the post with more news about the Los Angeles threat and the news about New York City.

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  6. mantis says:

    in New York City the initial threat assessment was performed by the New York City Police Department whereas it was school authorities who made the initial threats in Los Angeles.

    You cracked the case!

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  7. EddieInCA says:

    Welcome to the new bed-wetting America.

    Where a 1 in 20 million chance is now driving behavior.

    In the last five years, the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack have been about 1 in 20 million (that’s including both domestic attacks and overseas attacks). That’s considerably smaller than the risk of dying from many other things, from post-surgery complications to ordinary gun violence to lightning.

    That said, terrorist attacks obviously loom much larger in our collective consciousness — not least because they’re designed to horrify. So, understandably, they get much more attention. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/04/16/eight-facts-about-terrorism-in-the-united-states/

    The price of a free society is that some people will kill some of us occasionally. That’s always been the case. It will always be the case. Can’t stop 100% of terrorists attacks. For example, see McVeigh, Timothy, or Lanza, Adam.

    And yes, those were terrorist attacks.

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  8. Bob@Youngstown says:

    I sometimes wonder if the public is given too much information.

    In this specific instance, does the public need to know that the person who authored the email failed to capitalize Allah, thereby providing a clue that the threat was a hoax?

    Come on, should the media (and the investigators) be releasing that kind of information?

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  9. anjin-san says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The price of a free society is that some people will kill some of us occasionally.

    Happens in police states too. If someone is determined to kill, there is a decent chance they will succeed. We can either be a nation that enjoys life and goes about it’s business, or we can be a nation of panicked children. Clearly people like Donald Trump prefer the latter.

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  10. Tyrell says:

    With recent events and the shocking FBI warnings of ISIS cells in this country, LA schools probably did the right thing. It is better to be safe than sorry.
    Probably some student wanted an extra Christmas day off.

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  11. anjin-san says:

    @Tyrell:

    the shocking FBI warnings of ISIS cells in this country

    Cite please…

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  12. Tyrell says:

    @anjin-san: abc7chicago.com

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  13. anjin-san says:

    @Tyrell:

    abc7chicago.com

    A cite would be a link to that specific story…

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  14. JKB says:

    For example, the word “Allah” in the email was not capitalized, the official said.

    This is confusing. President Obama, the Attorney General, Secretary of Homeland Security have all stated that the jihadi terrorist are not real Muslims. So why would whether they capitalize the “A” in Allah matter? Only devout Muslims and grammar Nazis would be distressed by the lack of capitalization of “Allah”.

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  15. Tyrell says:
  16. KM says:

    @JKB:

    Only devout Muslims and grammar Nazis would be distressed by the lack of capitalization of “Allah”.

    Don’t be an ass. How many devout Christians type “him” instead of “Him” when wishing ill on their opponents or whining about their oppression? Hint: a ton of people at this site – I can think of maybe two posters off-hand that consistently and properly capitalize Him in reference to God regardless of their political leanings while everybody else wings it. Obviously, it’s a common mistake. It was clearly a fake regardless of capitalization but that’s the point you want to latch on to for a cheap shot?

    All it proves is a troll out there that’s terrible at spelling and great at freaking people like you out.

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  17. george says:

    I can imagine being the person making the decision on whether to close or not; ultimately it comes down to whether it’d be easier to live with closing unnecessarily, or not closing and getting to tell a parent that their child is dead because you didn’t take the threat seriously.

    There have been ignored warnings in the past (including 9-11), and it turns out that people aren’t very accepting of the excuse: “it was a long shot so we ignored it”.

    Ultimately they decided to play it safe. As was said above, its easy to criticize from outside, especially in retrospect. I’m not sure what I would have done. I suppose a compromise would have been to keep the schools open, but tell parents and staff that its their call on whether to show/send their children.

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  18. anjin-san says:

    @Tyrell:

    He is credible. And he said that there are investigations in all 50 states, not that there are ISIS cells in all 50 states. ABC 7 misrepresented his remarks to make it scarier so more people will tune in.

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