How Does Swatting Affect More than Just the Intended Victims?

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What is swatting? When you think of S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons Attack Team), one the first things that come to mind is a police response to a potentially dangerous situation. Unfortunately, “swatting” has become popular in recent years. In 2008 the FBI coined the term swatting after a series of falsely reported emergencies to local public safety services. In recent events, the term has since adopted itself to law enforcement agencies and the general public.

What is Swatting?

Swatting is when someone informs police or S.W.A.T. of a major crisis that is not happening. The goal is to trick responders into believing there is a crisis at a facility or home when there is no actual event unfolding. Assailants will sometimes manipulate caller ID data and disguise their voice to conceal their identities.

The principle behind this action is to get law enforcement officers to the location with the purpose of raiding the victim’s home or business at gunpoint. Many have fallen victim to the surreal hoax and it causes a dangerous situation for all people involved. Moreover, swatting incidents can be terrifying for the victim as well. The assailants’ intent to cause a fearful reaction in their victims makes swatters extremely dangerous.

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Types of Calls Made During a Swatting Incident:

  • Bomb threats to schools, government buildings, community buildings, public transportation, Etc.
  • Active shooter situations
  • Threats of a shooting rampage
  • Hostage situations
  • Threats involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosives agents.

Why Is Swatting More Than Just a Prank?

Swatting took off as an Internet trend in just the last 10 years. Swatting is very popular in the gaming community. Many swatting incidences have occurred while online gamers are live streaming on gaming sites such as Twitch. This type of platform allows gamers to share videos of themselves and their gaming sessions live on the internet.

The idea behind the prank is to get the police to break into homes and businesses. Police raid these victims with false information live on camera in front of hundreds, even thousands of people. These incidents started making headlines in the news media around 2011. The New York Times reported that “victims are mostly women who are being harassed by misogynistic male gamers.” According to police officials, swatting is a crime that is hard to stop and even harder to prosecute.

How Did Swatting Begin in the United States?

Because the ultimate goal is to scare, terrorize, and humiliate the victim, swatting is more than just a harmless prank. The assailant will generally stalk the victim online in chat rooms, on Facebook, and other means of social media. These stalkers use the information gathered about the victim for offline harassment. Without warning, a victims door is kicked open with S.W.A.T officers yelling at the victim to put their hands up and get on the ground. Meanwhile, thousands of people get a front row seat to the situation via computer webcams.

S.W.A.T teams are highly trained emergency response personnel. The cost of training such personnel is rather expensive. Furthermore, time and energy S.W.A.T teams spend chasing down these fake calls interfere with handling real emergency situations. False calls to 911 can delay handling real emergencies during busy timeframes at the PSAP (public safety access point) as well. These types of fake 911 calls also waste community resources needed for actual emergency events.

Why Would Someone Want to Use Swatting as a Form of Violence?

Fear and humiliation of the victim seem to be the main reasons criminals commit swatting in the first place. Bragging rights motivate some perpetrators. Basically, the perpetrator did it to show other people they could pull off the scam.

Tense situations where armed police officers enter a home or business where a potentially dangerous situation is taking place is riddled with risks. These risks are not only harmful to the intended victim of the prank, but also to everyone else at the location of the incident. The police officers themselves are not immune to the risks, either. Yet the culprit that placed the call sees the situation as entertainment. A live reality show so to speak. With online gaming communities, users can see their hoax in real time. These incidents are usually recorded and are passed around online forums as bragging provisions to prompt more swatting calls.

Who is Affected by Swatting?

Statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigations states that there are approximately 400 swatting attacks every year. The variety of people afflicted by this hoax ranges from celebrities to regular people just living their lives. Miley Cyrus has been swatted on two separate occasions (once in 2011 and then again in 2012) at her Los Angeles home. Even Congresswoman Katherine Clark was a victim of this crime after sponsoring the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act. Many who speak out against swatting have also become victims themselves.

Examples of Swatting Incidents

On April 28, 2017, Twitch user Paul Denino (pseudonym “Ice Poseidon”) was live streaming before boarding an American Airlines flight. After the plane had landed, law enforcement showed up on the tarmac and removed Denino and one other person from the plane. An anonymous caller claimed that Denino had a bomb when he did not.

On January 15, 2015, in Sentinel, Oklahoma, Washita County dispatchers received 911 calls from someone who identified himself as Dallas Horton and told dispatchers he had placed a bomb in a local preschool. Washita County Sheriff’s Deputies and Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross made forced entry into Horton’s residence. Horton shot Ross, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, several times. Further investigation revealed that the calls did not originate from the home and led Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents to believe Horton was unaware that it was law enforcement officers making entry. James Edward Holly confessed to investigators that he made the calls with two “nonfunctioning” phones because he was angry with Horton.

In May 2015, Zachary Lee Morgenstern, 19, of Cypress, Texas, was arrested after he made a number of hoax bomb threats and “swatting” calls in Minnesota, Ohio, and Massachusetts, including for two schools in Marshall, Minnesota. The police obtained his IP address from Twitter and Google. Morgenstern pleaded guilty to several federal crimes. In December 2015, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

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What Are the Consequences of Swatting?

Many readers think that swatting is like pulling a fire alarm while it is not. Federal law prohibits using the media system to falsely report a bomb threat hoax or terrorist attack. However, at this time, falsely reporting other emergency situations is not illegal. Moreover, anti-swatting laws are on the rise. Sadly, most swatters are under the age of 18. Therefore, the crime continues to go unpunished until more states pass laws that address the loopholes. There are occasions where these criminals have been prosecuted.

In short, swatting affects more than just the intended victim. It is never worth it because it ties up police resources and taxpayer money, not to mention the residual damage to the victim and those in close proximity. It is never worth it.

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