Great Falls schools and officers stress student safety amid reports of “stranger danger”

Posted at 4:03 PM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-22 00:04:19-04

GREAT FALLS – On Thursday, the Great Falls Police Department wanted to make people aware that there have been several reports of strangers approaching kids as they walk to and from school.

School Resource Officer Scott Bambenek is taking seriously each incident that a student reports.

“If this is happening it is definitely concerning, if we have strangers attempting to lure students into vehicles, there is a lot of things that could potentially happen,” Bambenek said.

Bamenek says people should err on the side of caution, and several elementary schools in Great Falls sent out information to parents and families regarding these reports.

Bamenek says so far, it has been difficult to verify verify the incidents: “All of the reports have very little information. There is no consistency to the reports. They are all different vehicles, different vehicle descriptions, different drivers and different driver description.”

Bambenek also says he has not been able to find any witnesses or video to show someone asking children if they want a ride.

Even though Chief Joseph Elementary School has not had any reports, some staff and parents went the extra step to make sure the kids feel safe.

Chief Joseph Elementary School Counselor Korey Alford says the principal sent out an email to all the teachers asking if they wanted to help walk children home, and for the past few days that is exactly what the staff has been doing.

“The kids loved it. They loved showing us their houses and introducing us to their parents. The kids were just thrilled by it,” Alford said.

Alford said they will continue doing things like this so children feel safe.

Bambenek says he has also asked officers to make more of a presence around the schools: “This is a great reminder to review those ‘stranger danger’ policies with your kids.”

Bamenek has also asked all of the schools he oversees to go over the ‘say no, go, yell, and tell’ strategy with all of their students.

Bambenek wants to stress that if a child tells a parent about someone asking if they need a ride home, the parent should call GFPD and notify the school district.

“If your child reports this, do not post it on Facebook, first and foremost. Call 911 if you need to,” Bambenek said.

He says they need to be able to investigate these incidents right away.

The Great Falls Police Department sent the following press release on Thursday afternoon to address some of the concerns:

In the last few days our School Resource Officers have taken complaints regarding suspicious persons possibly following kids who are walking to and from school.

Obviously, the GFPD thoroughly investigates these complaints. The SRO’s have not been able to determine any similarities in the suspect descriptions. If we had developed a consistent suspect or suspect vehicle description, we would be broadcasting that out to our community. At this point, we want the community to be aware of the general complaints and make sure you are contacting the Police Department.

The SRO’s have learned there are many children who have been reporting suspicious circumstances to an adult, and instead of the adult contacting the Police Department, the adults are reaching out to social media and the suspicious complaints are not reaching the Police Department. Many personal Social Media pages are discussing/posting information that has not reached the Police Department.

Your School Resource Officers have been diligently working with their Great Falls Public School Administration to send the message to students on how to be careful and aware when they are walking to and from school.

We encourage you to speak with your children about being aware of their surroundings and always letting an adult know where they are or where they are going. We are asking the
community to listen to your children and report suspicious behavior to the Police. Do not assume the Police Department is aware of personal Social Media posts.

Again, personal Social Media can be a source of information, but it does not engage the Police Department and never takes the place of a Criminal Investigation. If a child reports a suspicious circumstance or behavior to you, contact the Great Falls Police Department at 406-727-7688 option 5 or call 911 to report any emergencies.

Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News