BERLIN – Legislation passed this month in Annapolis will allow law enforcement agencies to prosecute those charged with making bomb threats in the area they targeted.
The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, will allow suspects to be prosecuted in the jurisdiction in which the bomb was rumored to be located, regardless of where they were when they made the threatening call. The legislation, introduced as HB 121 by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (District 38C), comes in response to the slew of false bomb threats area schools experienced early this year. Just this week, Showell Elementary School was evacuated following a bomb threat.
“I am grateful to the local community for their strong support and powerful testimony that led to the passage of HB 121 this legislative session,” Carozza said.
She introduced the bill in January after area schools were among those throughout the country that received numerous false bomb threats in a period of weeks.
“HB 121 took on a real sense of urgency at the beginning of this year when our local schools were hit by a series of bomb threat calls that caused major disruptions and turmoil in our home community,” Carozza said. “The situation remains urgent as these false bomb threat calls have continued, most recently at Showell Elementary School.”
On Monday, at about 11:20 a.m., Showell Elementary School received a telephone call stating there was “a threat in the building,” according to a statement made by Worcester County Public Schools. Law enforcement was contacted and the school was safely evacuated.
“Following a thorough inspection of the building, law enforcement cleared the school for students and staff to return in order to resume classes,” read a statement on the school system’s website.
When asked whether the number of bomb threats experienced this year had better prepared the school system for such events, spokesperson Carrie Sterrs credited law enforcement for their assistance.
“Our first priority in Worcester County Public Schools is the safety and security of our students in our schools,” she said. “Our partnership with local law enforcement agencies, assistance from our teachers and support from parents and the school system community have been invaluable as we continue to grapple with these threats. Our procedures are consistently being evaluated with each incident, and our schools continuously prepare to take proper precautions to manage threats.”
Carozza said the new legislation would be another tool for law enforcement to use when schools were threatened. She said the issue was brought to her attention by State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby and Worcester County Deputy Sheriff Mike McDermott just before the series of false bomb threats made in January. They told her that that law enforcement only had the authority to prosecute the crime of making a false bomb threat in the jurisdiction in which the threat originated, not necessarily the jurisdiction impacted by the threat.
“Specifically, they pointed out a case that occurred a few years ago in which an individual in Wicomico County called in a bomb threat targeting Showell Elementary School in Worcester County,” she said. “At the time, State’s Attorney Oglesby did not have the legal authority to prosecute this bomb threat since the call was not originated or received in Worcester County. Now with the passage of HB 121, law enforcement will have another tool in the prosecution of these false bomb threats.”
Carozza’s bill was signed into law May 19 by Gov. Larry Hogan.