Orlando passes ordinance to arrest people making social media threats

'A threat to do violence to our children is not a joking matter,' OPD chief says

By Vanessa Araiza - Reporter, Nadeen Yanes - Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando Police Chief John Mina said social media has outdated made Florida's law on social media threats outdated.

While legislatures work on their own measures, he said now is the time to do something in the city of Orlando.

"Unless someone makes a threat on social media to a specific person, law enforcement can't charge that person," Mina said.

City Council approved the emergency ordinance on threats, and it will be added to Orlando's disorderly conduct ordinance effective immediately.

The amendment now allows police to make an arrest if someone makes a social media threat even if it's not directed to a specific person or business.

Previously, a blanket threat couldn't warrant an arrest.

Monday's hearing was the first of two.

Commissioner Regina Hill raised her concern about legal action that could be taken -- especially if the person who is arrested is a child.
"I think that this should be a case-by-case. I am concerned that 8 year olds or 9 year old-year-olds in school that make subtle threats get a felony and we ruin their lives for the rest of their lives because they did something childish and immature," Hill said.

Ahead of the vote, News 6 spoke with Mina on the new ordinance, how it would work and his comments at the governor's school safety roundtable in Tallahassee.

Question: Chief Mina, can you first talk about the loophole on the arrest for social media? 

Mina: Correct. So both in this region and nationwide, we have seen an increase in social media threats to schools. So several months ago, we started looking at that.  Under the current law, unless the threat is made to a specific person we were not able to arrest the person who posted that threat. We had our legal team work on a new ordinance so that..to basically defeat that loophole. If someone posts a threat on social media we will be able to put handcuffs on that person. 

Question: So now like, the building is covered, if someone said they are going to shoot up a school?

Mina: If someone said they are going to do a school shooting or any threat of violence, really we are going to be able to arrest that person. Now, we have been working on this for several months. I know there are a (state)House bill and (state) Senate bill that is basically going to do the same thing, but we decided as a city that we were not going to wait around for that legislation, so we want to act now. We have been working on it for a couple months.


Question: How do you do the proof? It is very difficult for social media to prove who posted what.

Mina: We really rarely do not find the person who posted something. We have great cybercrimes detectives, an intelligence unit, we use the resources of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau Investigations, in some cases. We will find the person. Now, it would be a matter of they are violating our ordinance, and hopefully, if the legislation passes, that bill, it would be an enhanced penalty. It would be a third-degree felony.

Question: We have a lot of people saying that these are kids and maybe they made a big mistake. What is the message that you want to send to them?

Mina: A threat to do violence to our children is not a joking matter.
I think the vast majority of our country; the vast majority of our students realize that. We are not messing around.
We are going to put this someone in handcuffs if they are making these threats on social media.

Question: Can you talk about how many instances you have seen lately?

Mina: Well, we have seen some cases locally, but across the state of Florida there have been a number of cases. Really nationwide a number of cases. That's why you are seeing that legislation passed all around. An example, of the most recent one that filtered down here to Florida, there was a threat right after the school shooting in Parkland and they found the kid in South Carolina. They ended up arresting that person not for posing the threat but for disruption for school services. We are just trying to tighten the laws up and hopefully we will do that with this ordinance, and hopefully, the Legislature will pass a more severe penalty.


Question: If you are able to get your hands on that person, how might that prevent some of these types of incidents that might have been serious?

Mina: Well, anytime we can go put handcuffs
on a person who has posted a threat to anyone, that is going to make the community safer. And then I think it sends a message to people who are posting things on social media
about threats that we are taking this seriously and you are going to go to jail.


Question: Chief, how important was it for you-- your input about the school safety at the meetings in Tallahassee Tuesday?

Mina: I was very proud to be a part of that discussion and school safety.
It should be a top priority, and I was able to convey a lot of the positive things that we do here in Orlando. We have two school resource officers in every single high school in all of Orange County.

Many jurisdictions in Florida do not have that. I would think that there needs to be additional funding for that. That's important. We talked about things like the Florida Legislature getting those social media threats to be a felony crime. There is a number of other recommendations that came out of that, but I was happy to lend my experience to talk about it.


Question: Chief, you talk about the difference between how the laws have treated false threats versus true threats.
Mina: So that was the interesting thing about the loophole in that. If someone said that they were going to blow up a school and it turns out that was just a hoax or a joke, there is actually a charge for that.

It's called the hoax bomb charge, and there is a number of things in that statute that apply to that. That's the irony of it. If we went to that same person and they (said) "Well, no, I was going to do it, I just didn't go through," there is really not a charge under the current law. Now, Florida law needs to catch up with social media. A lot of our laws are outdated and were made before we had social media and the ability to post a threat that goes nationwide and puts everyone in fear specifically a school or a building.

Question: And this was before Parkland, right?

Mina: Yes, we have been working on this for a couple of months.

Question: And this is not just for students, right?

Mina. This is for anyone. There is a number of cases both here and nationwide where people pose threats on social media, and many times it is not a student.

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