The start of the 2022-2023 school year has been marred by a flurry of swatting-type threats targeting schools across the nation. A swatting threat is when someone, perhaps a thousand miles away, contacts law enforcement and makes a false report that an active shooter is on a school campus. In Minnesota, police responded to swatting reports at 14 different school districts on September 21st. In this episode, we will define swatting, identify its origins, examine the impacts on schools and communities, and measures being taken, or being considered, to reduce swatting.
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WHAT IS SWATTING? Per the Seattle Police Department, “Swatting is a crime. For those unfamiliar with the term, swatting is the act of creating a hoax 911 call typically involving hostages, gunfire, or other acts of extreme violence, with the goal of diverting emergency public safety resources to an unsuspecting person’s residence. It is a deliberate and malicious act that creates an environment of fear and unnecessary risk, and in some cases, has led to loss of life.” Swatting is most recognizable in the online video game communities or online broadcasting. As of April, 2022, popular Youtuber Tim Pool has been swatted 8 times during his live-streamed politically-themed shows.
WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF SWATTING? Swatting has been around for decades. It wasn’t particularly common and was carried out with landline phones or pay phones. But with the implementation of the 9-1-1 emergency number, advances in cellular phone, “burner phones,” and online technology, along with social media, swatting is becoming more sophisticated and happening more frequently than any time in history. “In June 2009, a blind 19-year-old hacker named Matthew Wegman was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges of computer intrusion and witness intimidation. The FBI first began investigating the teen after a 2005 swatting incident in which Wegman staged a hostage hoax, sending police to the home of a woman who had refused the teen hacker’s request for phone sex” (SOURCE: Kayla Kibbe, Inside Hook, March 30, 2019.) In 2017, a fatal swatting incident occurred in Wichita, Kansas, when Shane Gaskill was shot and killed by police after exiting his swatted-upon house. The motive was revenge swatting due to a disagreement in the online video game Call of Duty. In many cases, however, it is difficult to determine who placed the swatting call.
IMPACT OF SWATTING ON SCHOOLS. Per Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, “[School swatting] has become much more common in the past five years. These incidents not only instill fear and panic throughout school communities, they are very costly in first responder manpower, time, and taxpayer dollars. Sadly, they pull away first responder manpower resources needed for credible emergencies elsewhere in local communities (Trump, 2021)” The trauma impact of students, staff, parents, and communities is also palpable and might have lasting effects.
HOW TO STOP SWATTING – REGISTRY LISTS AND LAWS. There is no clear path to a solution for swatting. For persons or locations that are frequently the target of swatting, some local law enforcement will create a registry where residents concerned about swatting can communicate those concerns to their local 911 Center. However, this doesn’t mean that the response will be delayed or carried out with lesser resources. The other route is anti-swatting legislation and stronger consequences for persons convicted of swatting. State Representative Kevin Miller (Ohio) is an author of House Bill 462, which would make “swatting” a felony. He says right now, there is nothing on the books that specifically addresses “swatting.” Under the bill, if someone is convicted, the person could face prison time, as well as fines and restitution. In Colorado, a 2018 law penalizes hoax 911 calls. “If you make a swatting call, the penalties are similar to third-degree assault,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a sponsor of the 2018 measure. “And the thing is, if someone is hurt in the process, that increases to a [class 4] felony. If someone is killed, It increases to a felony in the third degree.”
IMAGE CREDIT. Police car image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-anke. Image 1889057 on Pixabay. Pixabay license free for commercial use and no attribution required.
SAFETY DOC WEBSITE, BLOG & BOOKS: www.safetyphd.com. The Safety Doc Podcast is hosted & produced by David P. Perrodin, PhD. This podcast and blog post represent the opinions of David P. Perrodin and his guests to the show. This is episode 189 of The Safety Doc Podcast published on 10-04-2022.
This is episode 189 of The Safety Doc Podcast published on 10-04-2022. This podcast and blog post represent the opinions of David P. Perrodin and his guests to the show. The content here is for informational purposes only. Please consult with your safety professional regarding the unique needs of yourself or your organization.
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