Swatting, the very illegal and sometimes deadly practice of making a prank call to 911 in attempt to get SWAT police to storm a building is apparently on the rise. The premise is often that someone is holding a hostage or threatening to murder someone which puts the cops in a no win situation. If they don’t treat it seriously and someone is being threatened they get in trouble. If they do treat it seriously and it is a fake, the police can do a lot of damage and, in some cases, kill people. That happened recently when the victim, who it turns out was not even the person who was supposed to be SWATted came out of his house when the police arrived and the police shot and killed him. The guy who did it was caught and prosecuted and is serving 20 years at least.
One of the challenges is that the police in almost every city in the country are NOT trained to figure out which 911 calls are real and which ones are hoaxes. In the case of the Kansas man above who was killed, the caller was smart enough to evade the 911 call recording and tracking mechanisms by calling the non-emergency police number.
According to the NY Times, this is a problem on both coasts with police being called to multiple executives homes over the last few months.
Corporate security at some tech companies are working on dealing with the threat, but we should remember that the police in Kansas went to the “wrong” house (it was the house they were told to go to, but it was not the house the SWATter wanted them to go to).
Seattle is the only city in the country where the police have created a high risk register where executives can register their family members so the cops can attempt to reach someone to try and figure out if it is a hoax or not.
We don’t really know how frequent this is happening because unless things go horribly wrong, the police try and keep things quiet. In addition, the victims also don’t talk about it because that would only bring attention to them.
Information for this post came from CNet.
SWATting has been around for years; the FBI even put out an alert in 2013, but the frequency has been increasing enough that it is a threat to public safety.