A potentially-deadly trend has hit home, straining law enforcement and putting whole communities in danger.
It’s a harassment technique known as “swatting” and occurs when a false call is made to police reporting a serious incident with the purpose of drawing authorities – and possibly the local SWAT team – to a specific address.
A swatting incident rocked the Newington community Jan. 10, ironically less than 24 hours after National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
The alleged conspirator in this case called in a false report that an individual had shot his parents inside a home on Church Street. Newington Police received assistance from State Police and three surrounding towns and the street was closed down for several hours, causing panic and concern among local residents.
Following this full-force response, Police determined that the report was false and there had actually been no threat.
“This call put the family in the home at risk as police were responding to what they thought was an armed and potentially hostile individual,” Mayor Beth DelBuono said the next day. “It also put other neighborhoods and communities at a public safety risk as officers responding to the call were unavailable while the incident was vetted and cleared. Whoever is responsible should be found and charged to the full extent of the law.”
Newington Police Chief Stephen Clark said the case is still under investigation by his detective division.
“These types of incidents generate a large police response that produces a very volatile situation for the responding officers and the occupants of the home,” the Chief pointed out, going on to describe how the impact of this and other swatting incidents ricochets through multiple channels.
“The response left other areas of town unprotected as Newington officers tried to determine the extent of the crisis and what additional public safety resources were needed,” he explained. “The officers believed this incident was real and requested mutual aid from nearby departments in order to stabilize and resolve the incident. That also left those departments short of officers. News of the incident spread quickly on social media causing nearby residents concern about their own personal safety. Having said all this, we cannot forgot the emotional toll this incident had on the family and what they had to endure.”
Other towns across the region have experienced their own swatting incidents in recent years.
Bristol Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu said her city has seen the crime occur as recently as this past fall.
“It happened several times over a two- to three-day period in November from a single unit in one of our apartment complexes,” Zoppo-Sassu explained. “A very serious 911 call was made regarding family violence, with a horrible description of what was supposedly happening.”
State Police assisted in this case, and were able to track the call to determine it was an incident of swatting.
Zoppo-Sassu also recalled an incident that happened in Bristol when she was a teenager. In this case, two girls were hit on the street by a fire truck responding to a false alarm.
“It’s really problematic,” she added of these types of incidents. “First of all, it’s diverting resources away from legitimate calls. Someone could be having a heart attack on the other side of town and we could have a problem getting units there. Also, whenever you go lights and sirens you run the risk of creating accidents with pedestrians…Anyone that engages in swatting for their own personal enjoyment has a twisted sense of humor and no idea how the repercussions can reverberate through a community.”
New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart had not heard of any swatting cases in New Britain, but did acknowledge the ramifications of such instances could be high.
“Swatting is an incredibly dangerous trend that should be stopped immediately,” Mayor Stewart said. “By reporting a false emergency, you reduce the number of law enforcement personnel that are available to respond to real emergencies, which can have catastrophic or even fatal consequences. Falsely reporting a crime is also a felony in Connecticut.”
The trend has affected communities across the U.S., from Los Angeles, Calif. to rural towns in the Midwest.
Police in Kansas arrested three video gamers in a 2017 swatting incident that turned deadly. According to a Dec. 29, 2020 article by the Associated Press, two of these individuals had an argument while playing the game ‘Call of Duty.’ Authorities said one of them recruited known “swatter” Tyler Barriss to falsely report a shooting and kidnapping at the other’s home. He no longer lived at the given address and a resident who did was fatally shot by police upon answering the door. Barriss is now imprisoned for 20 years for obstruction of justice and conspiracy for his role in this incident and dozens of other swatting cases.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.