City Councilor aims to make social media threats to public places a crime

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque City Councilor is aiming to make it illegal to make threats against public places, notably schools, within city limits.

The last time New Mexico legislators updated the state’s statute on bomb scares the U.S. began invading Iraq, the TV show “Friends” was still on TV and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their only Super Bowl to date; it was 2003.

That law (see full text below) says it’s illegal to make a threat of a bomb or other explosion by phone or face-to-face.

It says nothing about other threats like shooting up a school or doing it through other mediums- like social media- to communicate those threats.

City Councilor Pat Davis wants to change that. He got the idea after a school resource officer from Highland High School called him near the beginning of this school year.

“A student came forward and said ‘I got this weird message through social media that there might be a shooting at school today,'” he explained. “And when officers stepped in to investigate they realized that we don’t have a specific law that had caught up to technology.”

Davis is backing an ordinance that would make threatening a school or any other public place, no matter the medium, a criminal offense within city limits. Then police officers would be also able to get search warrants to see who’s behind the threat.

“Somebody can post something, show up on campus within a matter of minutes and those minutes make a big difference if you’re the police officer responding, trying to decide whether this is real or if this is a kid making a stupid threat to get out of taking a test,” Davis said.

The ordinance, that was passed at Monday’s council meeting but still needs to be signed off on by Mayor Berry, would make the offense a petty misdemeanor.

“Quite frankly, we need to send a serious message to people who would make threats like this from campus that this is not a joking matter. It ties up a lot of resources,” Davis said. “We want to to be sure that it lets us hold them accountable.”

Just this school year, an email threat of a shooting and bomb at Eisenhower Middle School shutdown class for a day. Days after that incident, an Albuquerque High School teen was suspended for making threats of a shooting via Facebook.

Davis says he hopes this ordinance, if enacted, will serve as a model for state legislators to create and pass a similar, state-wide law in the next session.

Current state law on bomb scares that was first passed in 1953:
30-20-16. Bomb scares unlawful.
A.   Making a bomb scare consists of falsely and maliciously stating to another person that a bomb or other explosive has been placed in such a position that property or persons are likely to be injured or destroyed.   
B.   Whoever commits making a bomb scare is guilty of a fourth degree felony.   
C.   A court may order a person convicted for the offense of making a bomb scare to reimburse the victim of the offense for economic harm caused by that offense.   
D.   As used in this section, “economic harm” means all direct, incidental and consequential financial harm suffered by a victim of the offense of making a bomb scare. “Economic harm” includes:   
(1)   wages, salaries or other compensation lost as a result of the commission of the offense of making a bomb scare;   
(2)   the cost of all wages, salaries or other compensation paid to employees for time that those employees are prevented from working as a result of the commission of the offense of making a bomb scare; and   
(3)   overhead costs incurred for the period of time that a business is shut down as a result of the commission of the offense of making a bomb scare.   
E.   This section shall not be construed to limit a court’s authority to order restitution to a victim of the offense of making a bomb scare pursuant to other provisions of law.   
  History: 1953 Comp., § 40A-20-13, enacted by Laws 1975, ch. 285, § 1; 1981, ch. 15, § 1; 2003, ch. 35, § 1. 

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