Schools, churches, workplaces can get protection orders based on social media threats under new law

Beginning next year, schools, places of worship and workplaces will be able to seek an order of protection against someone based off unwanted social media messages.

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, said the legislation was spurred on by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year where 17 people were killed by a former student who posted threatening messages before the shooting.

“How, if these schools know that these people are violent and they’re dangerous and have threatened, whether it be by social media or physically or verbally, the schools, why didn’t they get an order of protection, why didn’t they get in front of a judge asking for an order of protection?” Wheeler said.

In Illinois, it wasn’t included in state law to allow schools, churches or workplaces to seek an order of protection. The measure signed into law this week allows threatening social media messages as a basis for an order, and allows schools, a house of worship or a place of work to seek an order from a judge.

Brian Fengel, president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said it’s a good law.

“Law enforcement has to take all threats seriously, all the time,” Fengel said. “So shutting down loopholes is a good thing for the state of Illinois and is a good thing for law enforcement and for the prosecution.”

The measure is Senate Bill 3411. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it Monday, and it takes effect Jan. 1.

“I hope that schools and churches and places of work can utilize that to protect their employees and their students,” Wheeler said.

Fengel said it goes right along with the idea of “see something, say something.”

“There’s no making a threat against a school a joke,” Fengel said. “It’s not a joke anymore and we take it very seriously.”