DENVER (KDVR) — It is called swatting, the act of making a fake call to emergency services, usually drawing a large emergency response. The FBI said it happened across Colorado Monday. Now, parents do not want this to ever happen again.
Colorado lawmakers specifically passed a law looking to further punish so-called “swatters” four years ago, but as FOX31’s legal analyst explains, they have to be caught first.
“From gaming systems to burner phones to text messages, it makes it very, very challenging for law enforcement many times to track down who these people are,” FOX31 legal analyst and former district attorney George Brauchler said. The sophistication of technology used for swatting makes it hard to pinpoint the perpetrator. He said it usually takes the help of a good Samaritan.
“Normally, they involve someone either bragging after the fact or signaling beforehand that they are going to do it. And a good person will come along and say, ‘Hey, man, I’m not going to stand for that. I have friends in that school, I’ve got family members I care about.’ And they’ll come forward and let law enforcement know. I can’t overstate how potentially dangerous this is,” Brauchler said.
Colorado law penalizes hoax 911 calls
State lawmakers said the potential dangers are why they passed a law to address swatting four years ago.
“If you make a swatting call, the penalties are similar to third-degree assault,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a sponsor of the 2018 measure. “And the thing is, if someone is hurt in the process, that increases to a [class 4] felony. If someone is killed, It increases to a felony in the third degree.”
Brauchler said he would like to see punishments for the offense to go even further than they do now.
“When we catch a poacher, we need to throw the book at them. We need this to be serious enough. I think the legislature needs to look at this and decide whether or not, without discouraging real victims from making real complaints, we can put some real teeth in the law,” Brauchler said.
Denver Police said a male pretending to be a teacher called to report the threat of an active shooter at East High School on Monday. The FBI confirmed that there were numerous swatting incidents at schools all on the same day. Parents are concerned about the possibility of this happening again with similar incidents reported in other cities, like Washington D.C. and Houston, just this past week alone.
With the increase of school swatting situations, Brauchler said the consequences for children caught doing this are not very strong.
“This is not the kind of charge that you can try someone as an adult for. Those are reserved for things like murder, robbery, rape, not for crime like this. The juvenile justice system over the past decade has been so watered down, even if a juvenile were apprehended and charged with this crime, the ramifications for them are pretty mitigated in terms of what would happen to them through the juvenile justice system, and that’s because we have justice system that has a primary goal of rehabilitation, not punishment, and in this particular case, I think it’s got to be both,” Brauchler said.
Bridges said he thinks the penalties do go far enough., but he wants people to know the law exists so more people will think twice before they swat.