At approximately 12:30 p.m. Saturday, the Palestine Police Department dispatch received a call that tested the resolve and response of the department — a bomb threat had been called into the city.
“The caller referenced a bomb being somewhere inside the city limits,” Assistant Police Chief Gary Rayford told the Herald-Press on Monday. “He said he was in Mexico, but could see the police department from where he was.”
Rayford said the male caller's speech patterns indicated he was possibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Nevertheless, he said, the threat had to be treated as actual, until proven otherwise.
“He [the caller] referenced some local restaurants and public trash cans around town,” Rayford said. “He then gave us the address of 901 N. Jackson, then disconnected.”
Rayford said that units were immediately dispatched to the address, while other officers attempted to re-establish communication with the caller.
“When we obtained the suspect's phone number, it belonged to a person in Indiana,” Rayford said. “The number was most probably spoofed.”
Caller I.D. spoofing is the practice of causing a telephone network to indicate a false originating number to the receiver of a call.
“Officers responded to the address, and two detectives, including our hostage negotiator Sgt. Kassaw, were on stand-by,” Rayford said. “Their first priority was to verify the existence of the address. Once verified, their next step was to assess the threat.”
Responding officers were able to determine that the call, thankfully, was a hoax. Were it otherwise, Rayburn said, the department's protocols would have been immediately initiated.
“If there was an actual device, we would immediately have contacted Fort Hood,” he said. “The Army has specialized units for explosives. It's all they do.
“We make sure the fire department and EMS are on stand-by, and we evacuate the area. Also, we make sure to collect as much information as possible to pass down to the relieving agency.”
Although Saturday's call was a hoax, Rayburn said that such false reports are a serious matter — with equally serious consequences.
“During an emergency, one of our jobs is to bring calm to the chaos,” he said. “False reports can cause panic, encourage copycats, and take emergency resources away from the city.”
Communicating a false bomb threat in Texas is a class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. If the threat is made against a public or private school, public transportation, public gas, water, power supply or communications, or any other public service, it is a state jail felony. This is punishable by confinement in a state jail of no less than 180 days and no more than two years.