Police Departments Are Using Swatting Registries To Help Protect Swatting Targets From Police Officers
from the yeah-it's-weird dept
“Swatting” is a cheap and efficient way to terrorize anyone you want terrorized, whether it’s a gamer, journalist, online critic, celebrity, activist, or just someone’s whose personal info has ended up on the wrong website. Why hire a hitman to take out your enemy when cops are willing to do it for free?
The downside is limited. Even if caught, “swatting” perpetrators are charged with a grab bag of crimes that combined rarely add up to the attempted murder a swatting actually is. The rare exception is serial swatter Tyler Barriss, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for making the bogus 911 call that ended in the death of Andrew Finch at the hands of the Wichita, Kansas police department.
There isn’t much being done to deter future swattings — at least not in terms of additional training or policy changes at law enforcement agencies. It’s almost impossible to tell if a 911 call is legit until officers are on the scene, but it does seem these situations could be approached with a little more caution and little less reliance on immediate lethal force deployment.
There are some other efforts being made to limit future tragedies resulting from swatting attempts, as Olivia Solon and Brandy Zadrozny report for NBC. Changes are being made to 911 services in a few US cities that have already shown some positive results.
In June 2018, a Seattle resident who feared a Wichita-style tragedy asked the department to pre-register his address as a swatting risk. The request gave Whitcomb the idea for a city-wide registry, and the registry became part of a unique three-pronged protocol. In September, the police department also established the swatting advisory committee, which includes police, prosecutors, and 911 dispatchers, as well as gamers and tech workers from the city’s large tech community.
The most innovative part of the protocol, the registry, lets members of the public pre-register their addresses and contact details in an online database via a secure portal. To date, the city has registered 57 profiles of people who believe that they may be swatted. So far, four of them have been targeted by swatters.
This registry idea has already been co-opted by other cities around the nation, which will hopefully insulate some swatting targets from the full force of a SWAT deployment. The article discusses a couple of attempts targeting Seattle activist Ijeoma Oluo. Because she was on the registry, responding officers were advised the calls might be bogus and acted with more restraint.
Six officers, four of whom were armed with rifles, still showed up at Oluo’s home at 6 a.m. But because they knew the address was a swatting risk and had spoken to Oluo, they came to the door without their rifles drawn. They asked her son Malcolm some questions and swept the house to verify no one had been killed. It was all over within minutes.
The second swatting attempt targeting Oluo went the same way:
Again, Seattle police reacted cautiously, sending plain-clothed police officers to the venue to determine whether the threat was real without creating panic. No real threat was detected, but the incident was referred to a federal law enforcement agency.
The registry is a good idea and will save the lives of innocent people. But it does raise the question of why more anonymous reports of violent crimes (active shooters, multiple murders, etc.) aren’t subject to the same sort of restraint and caution seen in these two instances.
A member of Seattle’s Swatting Mitigation Advisory Committee says swatting “weaponizes” police forces against private citizens. Yes, it does. But part of the problem is the teams sent to deal with calls like these. SWAT teams are weapons. That’s pretty much all they offer, at least in their current incarnation. There’s no “weaponizing” needed. Swatting would result in death or injury far less often if cops responded to anonymous tips like these with the same restraint shown in the responses to the two calls targeting Oluo.
It seems that officers headed towards potentially-deadly confrontations would want as much information as possible before entering the supposed crime scene. In far too many cases, the actions of officers during swatting attempts shows the opposite, as if everything can wait to be sorted out until after the bullets stop flying.
This isn’t to say law enforcement officers are the real problem here. This is only to say that the general law enforcement mindset that sees neighborhoods as war zones and residents as enemy combatants has made something truly terrible even worse.
The real assholes, though, are the ones necessitating all of this in the first place. The people who think it’s okay to try to get other people killed or, at the very least, turn their lives into a cop-filled hell for a few hours. And all because a person killed them in a video game, or said something they disagreed with, or embrace different religious and/or political beliefs.