After multiple scares, officials say false bomb threats carry heavy penalties

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wwltv.com

Posted on April 19, 2013 at 10:32 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 20 at 8:27 AM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News
Email: mhernandez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mhernandezwwl

NEW ORLEANS - Since Monday's horrific bombings in Boston, law enforcement agencies around the country have operated under heightened levels of alert. 

In the New Orleans metro area, police have responded to five bomb scares in three days.
 
All of them turned out to be false alarms.
 
In the most recent scare, more than 200 people were evacuated from the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street Friday evening after a man called in a bomb threat, New Orleans police said.
 
According to police, the man called 911 and said, “There is a bomb in the Marriott Hotel and it’s about to blow.”
 
Police swept all three downtown Marriott, focusing on the Canal Street location after an employee noticed an unattended backpack in the bar area.
 
Turns out, the bag contained only tennis shoes, paperwork, and undergarments.
 
“We had only been in our room for an hour and we got a knock on our door from security who told us to evacuate,” said Karla Campbell, who is visiting from Chicago.
 
“The first thing that went through my head was that it was a hassle, it was not true,” said Darryl Minch, of West Palm Beach.
 
Friday's bomb threat at the Marriott was the second on Canal Street in less than 24 hours, and the fourth in the city of New Orleans in three days. All of them turned out to be false alarms.
 
There was also a false alarm in Mandeville Wednesday, prompting a multi-agency response and a four hour street closure.
 
A well-meaning janitor called police after noticing a black bag in a trash can outside a Mandeville post office.
 
“Each and every call, we have a standard response,” said Mandeville Police Lt. Gerald Sticker. “We're not omniscient, we don't know what's in the package, and we have to treat every one of them just like it's serious.”
 
In a time of heightened alert, police are using extra resources to respond to threats. They’re calling in officers, bomb technicians, canines, and using special equipment.
 
In the metro area, each threat was related to an unattended backpack, suitcase, or briefcase.
 
“It does tax our resources to an extent,” said Sticker. “We don't even consider finances when we get that call. We do what it takes and we get the job done. We worry about what it costs later.”
 
But police say, it's better safe than sorry, and they encourage citizens to call in anything suspicious. The package they don’t check on could be the one that poses a threat, said Sticker.
 
But false threats, like the one called into New Orleans Police Friday, are against the law.
 
“Let me be clear: those who cause unnecessary fear and inconvenience for our residents and visitors will be identified and face the maximum in state and federal penalties,” said New Orleans Police Chief Ronal Serpas in a statement.
 
At a press conference Tuesday, the FBI called such hoaxes "acts of terror."
 
“Such threats frighten and intimidate, inflict significant fear, and invoke substantial anxiety,” said Mike Anderson, FBI Special Agent in Charge for the New Orleans division.
 
That anxiety comes at a time when people are already on edge.
Police say they'll do what it takes to protect people, whatever the cost.
Police could not put a price tag Friday night on the cost of responding to bomb threats.
 
Under state law, those who make false bomb threats face up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

 

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