Retired Naperville Police Detective Richard Wistocki says his training program has stopped potential school shootings.
"Let me tell you something. We can stop school shootings. We can," Wistocki said to a room full of suburban police officers.
Wistocki teaches fellow officers during a two-day course called Identifying and Intercepting School Violence through Cyber-Investigations. One key lesson is how to track down people who anonymously make threats to schools.
Wistocki spent over 28 years in law enforcement with the Naperville Police Department, working as a SWAT sniper and a youth investigator in the Cyber Crime Unit putting online child predators away.
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“Within hours, we were able to identify who the bad guy is. So I started to develop a lesson plan," explained Wistocki, who said he’s taught 4,000 officers around the country and in Illinois.
"I have them report back to me, and I keep a tally, and we’re up to 40, just this school year," Wistocki said. "As of Friday, we had our 40th save. A 40th threat that somebody’s going to shoot up a school.”
Officer Jeremy Flood of the Normal Police Department has taken the course several times. He works as a school resource officer in downstate Illinois and said he’s stopped three separate anonymous threats made at Normal Community High School this year.
"My suspect, who ended up being a juvenile, I would say was pretty shell-shocked with the fact that quickly we were able to determine who did it,” Flood said. "They were making death threats. So, I was able to use Detective Wistocki’s tools to identify those suspects in about two hours each time."
Wistocki’s course teaches officers how to request information immediately from social media companies and internet providers to track down people making threats against schools.
"Almost every school shooter had posted on a message board, communicated to a kid they go to school with, put it on a YouTube channel," Wistocki added.
NBC 5 Investigates looked into the data. A 2021 Secret Service report found “individuals contemplating violence often exhibit observable behaviors." The agency’s National Threat Assessment Center examined 67 disrupted plots against schools from 2006 to 2018.
In 94 percent of cases, the plotters shared their intentions about an attack, either verbally, electronically, or online. In 75 percent of cases, the plots were detected solely because of what was communicated.
“We’ve had cases where we had to investigate because somebody had mentioned a firearm or something like that," Lockport Police Chief Rich Harang said.
Police Chief Harang has his school resource officers train with Wistocki to prevent school shootings.
But police also say it’s up to students, parents, teachers and staff to say something as soon as they learn of a potential threat.
“I can’t say enough how important it is that anytime they suspect that something is not right, or something is said, that they notify law enforcement," Chief Harang added.