The cost of bomb threats: Police say they're more than silly pranks

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By Amanda Smith – NEWTON FALLS, Ohio (WKBN) – School districts across the Mahoning Valley have been hit by bomb threats in the past year, and all of them turned out to be pranks.

Although there was no danger, WKBN discovered that these fake bombs have very real consequences.

"Monetarily, this hurts families, this hurts staff, it hurts our city's budget," said Newton Falls Police Chief Gene Fixler.

Just last week, someone made a fake threat at Newton Falls Middle School. Class was canceled for the entire day as police and bomb-sniffing dogs combed the area.

Police said students often make these threats as a prank or to get out of school for the day.

Threats have been made in Liberty, Poland, Youngstown and Champion, and the types of threats vary from a note scrawled on a bathroom wall to a call to the school warning of a bomb in the building.

Police, school leaders and safety experts say these threats aren't just a silly prank. They take several hours to deal with, and each one has to be taken seriously, meaning important resources are tied up.

Each bomb-sniffing dog team costs at least $30 an hour, and it takes at least four hours to check each school.

Add in overtime for police officers, and that can be costly.

"Probably about $10,000 to $20,000 is what it costs for just government, for law enforcement, government, and when we talk about government, what about the schools?" Fixler said.

State Department of Education data shows the cost of a wasted school day varies from district to district. In Newton Falls, that cost is around $30,000 a day. In larger schools, it could be up to $100,000.

Teachers and staff still have to get paid while school is evacuated.

Through the end of October, there were already 45 bomb threats in Ohio schools. Our state tied with Texas for the most in the entire country, according to an analysis by the Educator's School Safety Network.

Report: Bomb Incidents in Schools: An Analysis of 2015-2016 School Year

"Ohio has consistently had a higher rate of bomb threats and bomb incidences than any other state," said Dr. Amy Klinger, director of programs for the Educator's School Safety Network.

Dr. Amy Klinger studies school security. Her report shows that bomb and gun threats are the most commonly reported, and most of those threats are made via social media.

Klinger said threats can lead to "response fatigue," meaning that people get tired of treating them like they're real.

"The problem is we know that there will be detonations, because they do occur, it's just a question of when," she said.