Well, a relatively-new craze is quickly increasing in intensity and occurrence--with annoyance and significant peril--for the law enforcement community and citizens. Primarily targeted have been Hollywood celebrities--Ashton Kutcher, Miley Cyrus, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Simon Cowell, and the Kardashian/Jenner family members--and public safety resources have been grossly squandered.
"Swatting" is essentially the illegal and improper use of first responder resources (Police/Fire/EMS) by placing a false call to 9-1-1 operators and reporting a completely-fictitious, violently-criminal event in-progress. The sole purpose is to engage in conducting a prank resulting in humorous means. Nonsense at its purest sense; dangerous at its most extreme sense!
The root-word of its concept--swatting-- is a derivative of law enforcement's highly-specialized, paramilitaristically-oriented, elite special operations unit known as S.W.A.T. Acronymized, it stands for Special Weapons And Tactics.
One of the most recent swatting incidents targeted a high-profile Hollywood celebrity: Ashton Kutcher was not home at the time a perpetrator falsely activated a S.W.A.T. response to his residence, wasting valuable and expensive resources, to no avail.
This malevolent electronic-world behavior is not solely an American phenomena; Canada has also experienced this dangerous prank, having S.W.A.T. teams and police officers placed in harms way, in addition to the subject of the joke being humiliated.
Although not as frequently committed say, in comparison to "theft", swatting by pranksters has recently grown in terms of incidence and, as of late, largely occurs in the Los Angeles geographical area.
Upon a recent incident whereby a full-faith effort with law enforcement resources was expended responding to a "swatting"-related report of a violent criminal event-in-progress, at Ashton Kutcher's home, police officials investigated diligently and arrested a suspect. Interestingly, he is a 12-year-old boy!
Commonly-known is the fact that when someone utilizes a telephone and dials 9-1-1, the caller's location pops up on the CAD sitting in front of the 9-1-1 operator. Thus, a record of origination is tangible and appropriate levels of response are arbitrated based on the complainant's details.
However, "spoofing technology" sidesteps the usual ability for public safety jurisdictions to know from where a 9-1-1 call was initiated. Spoofing technology allows manipulation of computer and phone equipment, thereby affording perpetrators--inconspicuously--to set up law enforcement to respond to an address different than their own. First responders traverse urgently to a location at which is purportedly a major crime involving threat to life. The records, orchestrated by the swatter using spoofing technology, renders the belief by police that someone in that particular home where the crime is allegedly transpiring has placed that call, accurately. Therefore, duped are the police, fire, and EMS responders, in addition to citizens in that household. True identities of the callers are therefore hidden, and the prank is facilitated, along with tax-dollar-funded resources...all for a giggle.
FBI and "swatting"
Given its recent spate, the FBI has joined state, county and city law enforcement agencies in the battle to thwart swatting, and arrest those responsible for this dangerous and costly game. Citizens across the country have been targeted by swatters' antics.
The FBIs website contains some literateure and dialogue regarding "swatting", its implications, its inherent dangers to public safety and first responders, and endemic operational efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute offenders, at significant yet unwarranted cost.
The National Tactical Officers Association is a nationwide, on-line informational repository for SWAT officers, currently studying the swatting trend and its impact on tactical officers. Individually, however, police law enforcement agencies around the nation are handling this dilemma in their respective jurisdictions, Los Angeles seemingly highly effected. Given the myriad of celebrity-based figures in its jurisdiction, it is hardly surprising that this spate in swatting is evolving mostly in LAPDs area of responsibility.
Cases involving arrest for swatting--and typically accompanying charges, based on jurisdictional discretion and statutes--are forwarded to the respective jurisdictional-level , prosecuting attorney's office. In the case involving victims Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber, and the arrested juvenile responsible for swatting them (and others for which police believe this little culprit is responsible), has been furnished to the Los Angeles County Prosecutors Office.
Often, a cross-jurisdictional response is warranted. For example, say the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT contingency is committed in other pressing calls (real ones) and another call (perhaps false) is placed necessitating a SWAT team. Protocol then usually dictates to request of another agency its assistance with resources. Hence, LAPD may request assistance of the FBIs SWAT team, in which case the federal government is now involved and may assume jurisdiction. Consequently, any arrested parties will be subject to full prosecution by the United States Attorney's Office and, if convicted, will serve incarceration in a federal prison. The giggles may vanish upon the onset of this reality-based scenario.
Prosecutions of those caught "swatting" seek conviction of, primarily, violation of statutes such as "Making A False Report" and/or "Misuse of 9-1-1". "False Report..." statutes vary based on jurisdiction and can either be a misdemeanor or felony: The severity and extent of each situation is evaluated; the greater the potential harm incurred, the likelihood a felony will be imposed. Generically, a misdemeanor is imposed.
Governmental levels also dictate consequences. For example, "False Report" to any federal agent will result in being arrested, charged and prosecuted federally. Synonymously, other jurisdictions (city, county, state) result in prosecutions on behalf of the state.
Felony versus Misdemeanor
Typically, if one is convicted of a felony, then incarceration is remanded at a state prison facility; if a misdemeanor, then the incarceration period of up-to-one-year is served at a county jail. Probation is also an option at the discretion of the Courts, typically based on a scoring method, essentially inclusive of arrest records, damages caused by a perpetrator's actions, remorse, public outcry, victim's rights, etc. Consequences may differ with respect to jurisdictional resources, institutions of incarceration, and lifelong stigmata. Either way, you are now accorded the full attention of the government, and hold accomplishment of public arrest record.
In 2008, a man from the state of Washington was sentenced to three years in a California prison and fined $14,000 for swatting.
In the event any damages to--or destruction of--property resulted from swatting incidents, those additional charges are also imposed. Moreover, many jurisdictions' Courts will seek restitution for victims' losses, if any, inclusive of restitution for public safety agencies and jurisdictional expenses. A recent case in Los Angeles involved a plethora of police resources, including a police helicopter, all of which estimably exceeded $10,000. for this single response! So, these antics can quickly add up monetarily...and definitely pose a greater cost with respect to potential loss of life!
Celebrity vs. Joe Citizen Influences
Although we hear mostly of swatting incidents regarding celebrities, merely because these victims are noted figures in our society, others are also subjected to such swatting incidents across the country. The FBI has been monitoring these events and notes almost every state in our nation has had recorded incidents of swatting fiascos. Many swatting incidents are non-celebrity related, and Joe Citizen down the street can also be victimized. Thus, these incidents are not played out upon the egocentric, famous figures.
One example in the ordinary sense (not related to any infamous celebrity status) occurred in Langley, Canada. A family was pranked by a swatting incident. A homeowner, Mrs. Gray, exited her home and walked upon her front driveway when she noticed a heavily-armed and seriously-outfitted SWAT team laying dormant among her and the neighbor's property lines, bushes and brush. In seconds, she was confronted with the reality of a full-fledged SWAT outfit which swiftly engaged her on her property. She was handcuffed at gunpoint(s), searched like Public Enemy #1, and dealt with in an abruptly-aggressive manner. This resulted in her efforts to retrieve her mail from the mailbox and check on her horses.
Gray and her family were subjected to harrassment for over one year, stemming from a hacker her son corresponded with online. Her reports to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police went unheeded, per Gray. However, this incident seemed to have registered better with the RCMP, who thoroughly investigated this swatting event.
Given this craze, attention is mounting, governments are monitoring stats, and the concept is quite perilous to society at-large, primarily our first responders.
So, a question to swatters: The myriad near-realistically-generated computer games are not sufficient enough to satisfy your mindest; somehow you find it more appealing to place lives in absolute danger?
(S.W.A.T.T.I.N.G.--Special Weapons And Tactics To Investigate Nefarious Gigglers.)
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