Technology helps authorities thwart potential threats
Anytime keywords such as "gun," "kill" and "bullying" are used on social media and considered possible threats against Ocean County schools, the Justice Complex, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant, Six Flags Great Adventure and even NJ boardwalks, alerts are sent to the county's Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy said the Ocean County Sheriff's Department has partnered with a security company that provides the alerts. Mastronardy said the department actually has been using the technology since early 2014. When an alert is received, the Sheriff's Department will contact local police departments to further investigate if a threat is deemed credible.
"We had one incident recently with a high school student that emotionally needed some support. We notified the local police chief. He had his officers investigate and we got the person the help they needed," Mastronardy said.
The system costs about $10,000 a year and Mastronardy said his Department has only had to act on a few of the notifications so far.
"But if it's one student like the one we saved recently, it's worth every penny spent," he said.
The sheriff also said if there is a lockdown situation at a school, they can respond and also take a look at what's being published by the school population on social media.
Only three high-ranking sheriff's officers have access to the security alerts and Mastronardy said the system is only utilized under the proper constraints of the law. Documentation must also be provided to explain why authorities were looking at certain information on social media.
"This is not Big Brother, or the FBI or the NSA, or any of those organizations looking at people and targeting people. This is simply to give us an alert if in fact there is somebody putting something on social media that we should be paying attention to, and like a big brother, looking out for their little brother, we'll do that," Mastronardy said.
Acknowledging that sometimes people post things jokingly, such as, "I'm going to choke my husband," Mastronardy said they only look at comments that have more substance.
"We think it's a tool and we're going to use every tool we can to make the residents safe," he added.