Numerous officers from the Turlock Police Department descended upon a Turlock home Saturday night after receiving a call from a man who said he had just stabbed his wife and was preparing to do the same to his children.
What greeted the gathering of law enforcement was the scene of a woman and her kids peeking out behind a window curtain with very confused looks on their faces.
The woman and her children were all safe and sound. The man whose name was given by the caller and who was reportedly committing these acts of violence was actually at work and didn’t know the woman or her children. He had lived at the same residence in the 1800 block of Sierraglen Avenue as the woman and her children, but that had been 10 years prior.
It wasn’t long before the police department determined that all involved were the victims of “swatting.”
Swatting is the act of making a false report to a police department with the goal of sending out a large response, possibly even the SWAT team, to the home of an unsuspecting target. The real caller can be in the same town, or just as likely in another state or country. Using technology, the caller can make it look as if the call is coming from the house or at least in the vicinity.
Swatting is definitely a drain on resources and the officers’ time. It might be an act of revenge or it may be seen by the caller as a prank, but swatting is a serious crime and can have deadly results.
In December 2017, the Wichita Police Department in Kansas received a call from a man stating he had just shot his father and was holding the rest of his family hostage. He was threatening to kill them all and set the house on fire. The SWAT team responded to the residence and when Andrew Finch opened the door, he was fatally shot by a police officer.
The call that led to Finch’s death originated in California and was made by Tyler Barriss, a serial swatter. Barriss recently agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the shooting. Barriss said he was asked to make the call by a friend who had been arguing with a “Call of Duty” video game player online. The address he gave to Barriss wasn’t the player’s current address. It was Finch’s home.
Swatting isn’t exactly new. The Federal Bureau of Investigations has been tracking cases since an incident in 2008 caught the interest of agents in Dallas. In that case five swatters in several states targeted people who were using online telephone party chat lines. The swatters found personal details on the victims by accessing telecommunication company information stored on protected computers and then began making phony 9-1-1 calls to police departments around the country. The five swatters called 9-1-1 lines in more than 60 cities nationwide, impacting more than 100 victims, causing a disruption of services for telecommunications providers and emergency responders, and resulting in up to $250,000 in losses. “Swats” that the group committed included using bomb threats at sporting events; claiming that hotel visitors were armed and dangerous; and making threats against public parks and officials.
The swatters were tracked down through the cooperative efforts of local, state, and federal agencies and the assistance of telecommunications providers and first responders. In all, the case involved more than 40 state and local jurisdictions in about a dozen states. All five suspects were eventually caught and pled guilty to the charges lodged against them.
“Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain. Basically, they did it because they could,” said Kevin Kolbye, who was the assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office at the time of the crimes.