Swatting is the new rage, growing in frequency throughout the United States and is now an emerging trend in Canada as well. Both countries are experiencing bogus 911 calls requiring an immediate police response. Often a SWAT response is initiated to overcome dire circumstances based on information falsely reported.
A SWAT response requires effective coordination of effort and incident management. The Incident Commander deploys personnel and resources when a purported critical incident is in progress. SWAT deploys if needed. The swatting is complete once personnel recognize after the fact that no crisis actually exists. Once the hoax is realized, the “swatter” disappears without leaving behind witnesses, fingerprints, DNA, or a traditional crime scene.
No one has been killed yet by a “swatting” incident. However, innocent people have been forced to the ground, handcuffed, and temporarily detained following the swift action of a SWAT Team. Clearly, the potential for citizen and officer deaths as well as serious injury is simply a matter of time.
SWAT officers need to act quickly. Precise control of the scene is required. The very technical expertise and precision of SWAT teams are being used against law enforcement in swatting incidents.
Kevin Kolbye is the assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the FBI. In 2007, the Dallas office initiated the first swatting case. Kolbye stated that it would be easy for an individual with knowledge of computers, telephone systems, and the desire to do so to create a false hostage situation to initiate a SWAT response. Successful “swatting” incidents tend to draw national media attention. This in turn generates copycat incidents. Each swatter desires to surpass what others accomplished previously.
There is no exact formula to create a “swatting” incident. In the past, law enforcement had to deal with false alarms and prank calls for service. However, these incidents pale in comparison to what today’s “swatter” dreams up. The greater the expenditure of time, effort, manpower, funds, equipment, and disruption of everyday services, the more a swatter is rewarded. Once swatters experience the adrenalin rush from experiencing such power and control, they need to create similar incidents. Kollbye advised that swatters do these things simply because they can.
Swatting incidents are criminal acts. The brazenness of the acts has grown with the passing of time. Generally, as information is first received by 911, an immediate police response is initiated. The severity of the circumstances requires an additional response of support personnel and equipment to the scene.
The caller and 911 dispatcher have ongoing communication. As false information is provided to field intelligence, incident commanders are hard-pressed to contact the people they believe need assistance.
From my perspective, swatting has reached a new level. It is more involved. Just initiating the SWAT action is no longer is the sole goal of a swatter. Swatters realize success when they can initiate a massive SWAT response with one or more agencies focused on saving lives…for nothing.
Following are recent examples of swatting incidents:
- As of June 27, 2012, four cases of swatting have occurred in the City of Rye, NY. Each incident called for an emergency response. Police believe that a group may be involved. A 14-year-old Rye youth was charged for allegedly making a false report of a home invasion. This investigation is ongoing. Rye Police requested FBI assistance.
- June 11, 2012 the Coast Guard received a report a yacht had exploded off the coast of New Jersey. The caller communicated updates on the situation. An immediate response was required because authorities believed that the boat was sinking.
Information provided by the Coast Guard indicates that the caller claimed three people were dead, 9 injured, and 20 in the water. The caller also advised the Coast Guard that individuals made their way to life rafts. The Coast Guard and New York City police helicopters conducted a search and rescue response of the area for approximately four hours. No sign was ever found suggesting a sinking vessel due to an explosion.
- June 11, 2011 the Coast Guard was advised via their National Distress System that a 33-foot sailboat was sinking. An hour later, a second contact indicated that the boat was almost completely submerged. The Coast Guard was advised the four boaters were changing over to a small gray boat. They were also advised that the boat was not equipped with flares or a handheld radio. A 10-hour search and rescue operation did not turn up signs of the boaters or the sailboat under water.
- Last year (2011) the Coast Guard, with the assistance of state and local agency marine responded to more than 60 suspected prank calls in the Northern New Jersey, New York City, and Hudson River region.
- On August 3, 2011, a caller reported to the San Francisco Police Department that his brother was being held hostage in his own home. After failing to make contact, SWAT Team entered the home. There was no merit to the call. A couple was at home with their two children. This detail was in place for more than three hours.
In Canada, the same kinds of events are being staged as in United States. This situation represents an extremely dangerous trend. Law enforcement agencies MUST respond to any request for help. However, response to false incidents represents a totally unnecessary expenditure of time and resources in an era of diminishing public budgets.
Assistance from federal agencies will be needed to address this new crime trend, which represents not only an unnecessary risk to personnel and expense, but also has frightening terror implications. Terror cells could deploy similar swatting incidents as a decoy to a real terror event staged while emergency resources are deployed elsewhere.
Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and executive officer. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and the IACSP. Jim mentors the next generation of LEOs by teaching university-level criminal-justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.
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