Sunday, May 31, 2020
Using Digital Forensics to Check Out School Threats
Sam Jingfors stressed the need to cultivate respect for students, parents and community.
Thursday, April 25, 2019


Establishing the credibility of a threat, such as the one Wood River Middle School officials dealt with Tuesday and Wednesday, is getting easier and easier, thanks to digital forensics.

The FBI, for instance, has more than 35 billion images it can google to tell if a picture of a handgun posted by a student is photoshopped or an actual handgun the student took a photo of. The latter, of course, would make the threat more credible.

But the relationship between adults and students remains the most important thing in promoting safe, healthy, caring schools, according to the vice president of Safer Schools Together.

This letter to Santa shows this child’s technological knowhow.

“Human detectors before metal detectors,” Sam Jingfors told more than 650 school administrators, teachers and school resource officers at the annual Idaho Prevention and Support Conference this past week at Sun Valley Resort.

Jingfors walked school administrators, teachers and others through a variety of tools they can use to ascertain the credibility of a threat like the one that caused concern among teachers and administrators at Wood River Middle School late Tuesday.

In that case, Blaine County School District officials worked together with Detective Todd Peck and other Hailey and Bellevue law enforcement officers to determine the credibility of a threat to the school after a note was found in a bathroom and turned over to the school resource officer.

After multiple student interviews, officers determined the threat was not credible and Blaine County School officials announced just before 6 a.m. Wednesday that all schools, including Wood River Middle School, would be open but with the increased presence of police officers.

“Went to the moon—Took 5 photos. Went to the bathroom—Took 37 photos” sums up today’s social media culture.

Officials continued to look into the threat on Wednesday as students came forth with other information. But the new information gave no reason to think that the threat was credible.

Jingfors’ organization assists schools and police in the United States and Canada with the latest information about how to assess and deal with anonymous online threats, sexting, sextortion, swatting and doxing.

Jingfors showed teachers how they can use tools like Google Images or to search the internet for images that appear identical to the image the student has posted.

He showed teachers how to trace a poster’s username across multiple social media and accounts, including Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. He showed them how to search Instagram by school location.

And he showed them how to google quotations for copycat language.

Some school districts use Safe Schools Together’s online tool PSST World to allow students to report anything suspicious anonymously.

“Bottom line: if you see something, say something and we will do something.”

Teachers and police officers need to ask whether the student in question has engaged in behaviors consistent with the threat. And whether he has the means to carry out the threat.

“Often, a threat is a cry for help,” said Jingfors, a former police officer. “The student tells others because he is not 100 percent committed.”

Today’s technology isn’t going away any time soon. And each day, it seems, brings a new wrinkle, Jingfors said. For instance, the New Zealand mosque attack, which killed 50 people, was the first such incident ever livestreamed to Facebook.

Kids spend 6.5 hours a day on screens. Whereas the astronauts took five photos during their visit to the moon, today’s teenager may take 37 while in the bathroom. Even some letters to Santa now show evidence of technological knowhow, he said, producing the copy of a letter that included web addresses for all the toys the child wanted.

What’s missing from social technology is human connection.

Just what screen time does to the brain is unclear, he said, A $300 million National Institutes of Health study following 11,800 children year by year MRIs found social screen times does change the brain.

“But so does everything else, from growing up in poverty to playing soccer”, he said.

The year 2018 was a record year for gun violence in schools with more incidents and more deaths than ever before. And it’s incredibly easy to create a fake Snapchat account, post a threat and have it spread virally, Jingfors said.

Teachers need to cultivate relationships with students who can warn them of threats. Often, students warn friends to stay away from school before they do something drastic. Research indicates that in 81 percent of school attacks another person was aware of what the student was thinking or planning.

“Break down codes of silence,” Jingfors encouraged them. “Once students know we want to know and will do something about it, it changes behavior.”

 Jingfors exhorted educators to keep abreast of what kids are saying and where they’re saying it. A lot of kids are very open, posting excerpts about the violence they attend to do on social media.

The month prior to Christmas is a critical time to be on lookout for threats of suicide. Anniversaries of incidents, such as the Columbine High School shootings which took place 20 years ago Saturday, can also be triggers.

Expulsion can be a double-edged sword as it often pushes a student over the edge because they’re ripped away from whatever emotional contacts they may have had with a caring adult.

School districts need to develop innovative strategies to make every student feel valued. And the connection needs to extend to the community, Jingfors said. In one school students take turns greeting every child entering their classroom with a handshake smile and eye contact.

At another, the principal spends his lunch hour going from table to table having meaningful conversations with the kids.

School officials are better at intercepting incidents than most people realize, Jingfors said.

“We have a disproportionate number of wins compared to losses. They just don’t make the headlines.”




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