By Jeff Amy | Associated Press
ATLANTA — A wave of false reports reporting shootings at public officials’ homes in recent days could pave the way for tougher penalties against so-called swattings in more states.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost were among the victims.
Several targeted Georgia lawmakers have said they want tougher penalties for swatting, similar to laws passed this year in Ohio and Virginia. Similar bills are pending in other states and in Congress.
Here’s a look at the problem and what could be done to fix it:
WHAT IS SWATTING?
Swatting involves making a prank call to emergency services to provoke a response to a particular address. The goal is to get authorities, including a SWAT team, to show up.
In recent days, calls in several states have heard the voice of a man calling himself “Jamal,” saying he shot his wife because she was sleeping with another man and saying he held his boyfriend held hostage, demanding $10,000.
Two Ohio lawmakers said they believe they were recently targeted for helping pass a law making swatting a felony in the state.
Georgia state Sen. Clint Dixon said the incident at his Buford home on Christmas Eve was “pretty surprising” to him, his wife and three children.
“I was watching some football and my wife was upstairs packing for a trip, and all of a sudden I heard her, you know, start yelling, ‘There’s the police running at the door.’ She saw it on our Ring doorbell,” he told WABE.
WHO HAS BEEN TARGETED RECENTLY?
A man in New York called the Georgia suicide hotline shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, saying he had shot his girlfriend at Greene’s home in Rome, Ga., and was then going to kill himself, Kelly said Madden, Rome police spokesperson. The call was quickly transferred to police when suicide hotlines recognized the MP’s address.
The department said it contacted Greene’s private security to confirm she was safe and that there was no emergency. The call was later determined to be a swatting attempt and so the response was canceled while police were en route. Greene was the subject of several attempts to run him over.
Scott wrote on X that police were dispatched to his home in Naples, Florida, while he and his wife were having dinner Wednesday evening. Police said they met with Scott’s private security at the home but found nothing unusual.
“These criminals wasted our law enforcement time and resources in a sick attempt to terrorize my family,” Scott wrote.
In Boston, a caller said Monday he shot his wife and tied her and another man up at Wu’s home. The Democratic mayor said she was surprised when he opened the door and seeing flashing lights, but said her home has been targeted by multiple calls since she took office in 2021.
“For better or worse, my family is kind of used to it now and we have a good system with the department,” Wu told WBUR.
A Republican congressman from New York, Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones and a former Nebraska state senator were also targeted. Dixon was among four Georgia state senators recently crushed. In Ohio, three current or former state lawmakers were affected.
Jones said his home in a small town south of Atlanta was destroyed Wednesday, but a bomb threat was called in Thursday.
“Thankfully everyone is safe and I commend our local law enforcement officers for their professionalism,” Jones wrote on X. “Let me be clear: I will not be intimidated by those who attempt to silence me,” Jones wrote on X. We will put an end to this madness.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
Hundreds of sniping cases occur every year, with some using caller ID spoofing to hide their number. And the people targeted go well beyond civil servants.
Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, told KETV-TV they fielded three swatting calls during the same 48-hour period in which they went to the former senator’s unoccupied home of State Adam Morfeld.
The FBI said earlier this year that it had created a national database in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies to track swatting incidents nationwide. Police had been reporting for months a sharp increase in false allegations about active shooters at schools and colleges. Hundreds of incidents of crushing and bomb threats against synagogues and other Jewish institutions have also been reported since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
The Anti-Defamation League estimates that in 2019 there were more than 1,000 swatting incidents each year nationwide. This group says each incident can cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in emergency response costs.
DO FALSE THREATS POSE OTHER RISKS?
Such calls have proven dangerous, even downright deadly.
In 2017, a police officer in Wichita, Kansas, fatally shot a man while responding to a fraudulent emergency call. Earlier this year, the city agreed to pay $5 million to settle a related lawsuit, with the money going to 28-year-old Andrew Finch’s two children.
In 2015, Maryland police shot a 20-year-old man in the face with rubber bullets after a fake hostage situation was reported at his home.
In addition to putting innocent people at risk, police and authorities say they are concerned about diverting resources intended for real emergencies.
WHAT KIND OF RESPONSE MIGHT THIS CAUSE?
Police are investigating the recent threats. No arrests have yet been reported.
Earlier this year, Ohio made it a misdemeanor to report a false emergency resulting in a law enforcement response. And Virginia increased penalties for swatting to up to 12 months in prison.
Dixon, the Georgia state senator, said in a statement that he plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session to strengthen penalties for false reporting and misuse of police force.
“This issue goes beyond politics: it concerns public safety and preserving the integrity of our institutions,” he said.
Jones, Georgia’s lieutenant governor, vowed “to end this madness” after his home in a small town south of Atlanta was destroyed on Wednesday, only to receive a bomb threat in his office on Thursday.
“Let me be clear: I will not be intimidated by those who try to silence me,” Jones wrote on X.
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