In a growing-but-disturbing practice called “swatting,” a bad guy places a false 911 call to police designed to provoke a SWAT-team raid on an unsuspecting person, perhaps an enemy or even a friend. Swatting is now so common that legislators are writing laws against it.
“Perpetrators of these hoaxes purposefully use our emergency responders to harm their victims,” US Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) told the press. “These false reports are dangerous and costly, and have resulted in serious injury to victims and law enforcement. It is time to update our laws to appropriately address this crime.”
The FBI estimates that around 400 swatting incidents occur each year, The Framingham Patch reported. An April swatting incident in Framingham prompted Clark to propose a new law, the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act, which would make hoaxes a federal crime punishable with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Some Disturbing Swatting Incidents
“It is far more than a hoax,” Clark said. “It is really such a dangerous situation for law enforcement, for victims, and for communities at large.”
Recent news stories reveal some very disturbing swatting incidents, including:
- A January 2015 incident in which Police Chief Louis Ross of Sentinel, Oklahoma, was shot three times by a man named Dallas Horton. Ross raided Horton’s house because of a 911 call about a bomb threat to a local community center. The Oklahoma State of Bureau of Investigation later determined that the threat was a hoax and Horton was innocent, Off The Grid News reported.
- A fake 911 call about a hostage situation that prompted a SWAT team raid on the Framingham, Massachusetts, home of Irandi Waighe and her 96-year-old mother-in-law in April. The two women were asleep in the home when a SWAT team entered it. The raid was prompted by a call from “Peter” who claimed he had shot his girlfriend and taken a hostage. Cops quickly determined none of that was true and there was no Peter. This incident inspired Clark’s proposed law.Disturbingly, the person who was behind the Framingham swatting hoax was able to hack the phone system and make it appear the call was from Waighe’s landline, The Patch reported. A similar ruse was used on Horton’s phone.
- An incident in Houston, where a man named Zachary Lee Morgenstern was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for a series of false bomb threats and swatting calls directed at a high school and individuals in Marshall, Minnesota. In this cross-state incident, the police caught him before a SWAT raid took place.
“The defendant engaged in a pattern of harassing activity against several victims using the cloak of anonymity afforded by the Internet,” Assistant United States Attorney Timothy C. Rank said. “He wrought emotional havoc and caused the needless expenditure of public funds to respond to his destructive emails, tweets, and phone calls. Mr. Morgenstern committed his crimes in part because he thought he would not get caught. Because of the excellent investigative work of the FBI, he was wrong, and the sentence today sends a strong message that there are serious consequences for this type of behavior.”
Framingham Police Chief Ken Ferguson told The Patch he favors a federal solution.
“Having a national law will help reduce these type of calls,” Ferguson said.
Would you favor a federal law against swatting? Share your thoughts in the section below: