WPPD talks to Oak Hill students about bullying, online threats

WPPD Assistant Chief Kennedy Meaders, Police Chief Avery Cook and Captain Virginia Rich hand out goody bags to Oak Hill Academy students after a Tuesday assembly that focused on cyberbullying and online threats

Following a rash of online threats in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the West Point Police Department wants local students to know that the department takes bullying and threats seriously.

Assistant Chief Kennedy Meaders and Captain Virginia Rich spoke to Oak Hill Academy students at an assembly in the school’s gym on Tuesday. The talk focused on bullying in the digital age and the seriousness of making threats online.

“Bullying is basically against the law,” Meaders said. “There are statutes out there to protect people against bullying.”

The other angle of their discussion focused on threats and school safety.

The school was recently placed on lockdown after a report of shots fire near the school. Headmaster Kathy Davis said several students did not handle the lockdown or other drills properly by communicating with others via social media during the incident.

Davis said during the assembly that the school had seen two lockdown drills in three weeks.

“We wanted to make our students aware that some of the things they do or say in person and on the internet, that they have repercussions and possible consequences,” Davis said. “ A lot of these things their parents did not have to deal with when they were growing up and may not know.”

Meaders and Rich alternated telling the students about the importance of paying attention to the telltale signs of bullying and to say something if they see something.

“We want (the students) to know they have their parents, they have school administrators that care about them and that want to help them, especially this day and age,” Rich said. “Bullying is historical, but it is just a different breed thanks to modern technology.”

Both Meaders and Police Chief Avery Cook cited an incident at West Point High School, which served as a catalyst for local law enforcement to take a more proactive approach when it comes to online threats regarding area schools.

In February, a West Point High School student was accused of making threats against the school after the FBI Field Office in Oxford tipped off WPPD about the possibility of a threat.

“We want to be proactive in all we do in law enforcement, because that eliminates your problem when you get in front of things,” Cook said. “The reason we were here was that.”

Meaders also mentioned to students that the FBI is now sharing more information with local law enforcement, after it was found that the federal agency knew about the threat posed by the Parkland shooter, but failed to notify local authorities.

Rich said one of the challenges law enforcement faces from an investigative standpoint is the rapidly changing digital landscape, which can be cumbersome for police to stay updated on.

“Every day there is a new app of some type and the challenge is keeping up with that and really knowing what’s going on and where these kids are,” Rich said. “It’s a challenge for the parents as well. Kids needs to understand there is a dark side to the internet. They may be chatting with someone online and don’t have a clue who they are chatting with.”

At the conclusion of the assembly, Cook, Meaders and Rich handed out gift bags to students and faculty that included candy, book marks, pencils and anti-bullying literature.

“Thinking about it, the thing is, like the Golden Rule says, do unto others and you would have them do unto you, and we just want to make an impress that on the kids and want them to be aware of that and bullying,” Cook said. “ It affects people in different ways It will help them in life.”