Everything is quiet. An anonymous person places a false emergency phone call from a fake number, and suddenly the neighborhood is swarming with police cars, SWAT team members and Homeland Security vehicles. This act of stirring up chaos is known as swatting.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) website, swatting is a prank that is becoming more common since the Bureau first warned people about it in 2008. Often used as a prank or form of revenge, callers use “spoofing” technology to disguise their phone numbers. When the emergency operator answers the call, the number appears to be from the local area, despite the caller possibly being several towns or even states away.
In an article on the site, Assistant Special Agent Kevin Kolbye, of the Dallas, Texas division, is quoted as saying these incidents are “a public safety issue.” Officers surround the area and approach the building with weapons drawn in preparation for an extreme and possibly dangerous confrontation.
“They believe they have a violent subject to apprehend or an innocent victim to rescue,” Kolbye said in the article.
One instance of swatting occurred this past February in St. Cloud, Minn. According to an article written by Nick Wingfield on the New York Times website, popular online gamer Joshua Peters was playing the video game RuneScape when officers gained entrance to the Peters’ home and demanded he and his family lie face down on the ground. They had their guns pointed at the family members.
The article states that someone had called 9-1-1, claiming that Peters had just shot his roommate.
The use of swatting against online gamers who live stream, or live broadcast, their sessions is a growing trend. Because gamers aim their webcams at themselves to tape their reactions to situations in the game, swatters can watch their prank unfold in real time.
Swatting is also used as a way to exact revenge. According to fbi.gov, in 2004 a teenager by the name of Matthew Weigman swatted the Colorado home of a girl he had met through an online chat room. After she refused to engage in phone sex with him, Weigman placed a 9-1-1 call, claiming to have taken the girl and her father hostage at gunpoint.
In addition to causing commotion and panic to the victims and surrounding neighbors, swatting can also have much more severe consequences. Not only are the lives of SWAT team members, victims and their families at stake, but it also pulls officers away from real emergencies.
In an article on Computerworld written by Darlene Storm, research psychologist John Grohol was quoted as saying, “It’s like creating your own episode of ‘Cops.’”
The jail time involved in committing such crimes is extensive. Last September, 15-year-old Paul Horner of DeQuincy, La. was found guilty on two counts of domestic terrorism for swatting, and sentenced to 25 years to life in a federal prison, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In the article, University of Central Florida in Orlando Police Chief Richard Beary said these incidents are “an incredible waste of money” and are “dangerous for victims and law enforcement.”
Contact Stacy McKeigue at firstname.lastname@example.org.