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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Springfield school police are increasingly called to step in when problems that escalate through social media make their way onto a school campus.
It is a growing problem, one that police Field Supervisor Eric Boxberger said is "not going to go away" because more teens are communicating through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and other online services.
Recently, a Parkview High School student — who came to officers' attention after a classmate reported being threatened on Facebook — was arrested and charged with misdemeanor unlawful use of a weapon after an unloaded gun, and bullets, were allegedly found in his car.
Boxberger said activity on social media sites, such as Facebook, can provide a critical heads-up when a bigger problem might be brewing, the Springfield News-Leader (http://sgfnow.co/1zjlLg7 ) reported.
He encouraged students who feel threatened, bullied or harassed online — and fear it could disrupt the school day in any way — to report the concern to a school police officer.
"If we get something and we need to look into it, we will," he said. "It can come to us from any source."
School police aren't equipped to actively monitor social media for problems and don't have a designated cybercrimes unit. But, Boxberger said, they investigate any issue that comes up.
Tom Tucker, director of school police services, said students and parents are getting better about reporting worrisome activity that they see, or hear about, online.
In early September, a Springfield parent reported seeing a Central High School student with a handgun in what appeared to be a school bathroom. The next day, a gun — allegedly traced to that same student — was being transported through the school when it was dropped and discharged. No one was injured.
"We have more people aware of what can happen," Tucker said. "They are quicker to bring it to our attention."
The district tracks the criminal or near-criminal incidents that occur on school property annually but not how school officials found out about the activity, so there are no hard numbers about how many originate with — or even involve — social media.
Tucker said students are getting better and saving or printing out Facebook posts, tweets and other interaction they find problematic. That's helpful, he said, because it gives officers a better starting point.
"People talk about things they see and read on Facebook all the time," he said. ".Usually they will bring a copy."
The recent incident involved a weapon on campus but Tucker said many are less serious.
"It's not always super high profile," he said.
Boxberger said the growing popularity of social media among middle and high school students is helpful when things go wrong because, often, there is a paper trail.
"If a student is being threatened or bullied, it's helpful if we're able to see it," he said, adding the posts can also be used as evidence if the criminal charges are likely.
Boxberger said technology isn't the problem, arguing that smart phones, computers, laptops and tablets can be important tools during the educational process.
But he said with those tools comes more responsibility. And teachers, officers and parents must play a role in educating students on appropriate use of technology.
He noted that despite a growing amount of technology on campus, most of the problems officers see that have a social media component originate outside of the school day.
"It's more common that it starts the night before," he said
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com
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