SEATTLE — Swatting is a new category of crime emerging in the internet age and the Seattle Police Department is taking innovative steps to protect people against the crime.
Swatting is when bad-actors make hoax 911 calls reporting crimes typically involving hostages, gunfire, or other acts of extreme violence, with the goal of diverting emergency public safety resources (the SWAT team) to an unsuspecting person's residence.
Anyone can be a target, but victims are typically associated with the tech industry, video gaming, online broadcasting, and/or have an elevated persona online.
"It's incredibly dangerous," said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb with Seattle police. "It weaponizes our 911 first responders by sending them to a home or business of an unsuspecting person for the sole purpose of harassing, terrorizing, or embarrassing them on a live-stream."
A swatting hoax resulted in an innocent man being shot and killed by police in Kansas in 2017. That case drew national attention to the issue, and locally it made Seattle Police start looking for solutions.
SMART 911 improves the quality of public safety responses to your residence. Users create an online profile providing details specific to the people living at an address. For instance, someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, or has a specific medical condition. First responders are able to access this information en route and be prepared for specific medical events before they arrive.
Seattle Police also now use Rave Mobile Safety for the purpose of registering swatting concerns. People concerned about being the target of swatting can register in a database accessible to 911 operators. After dispatching emergency services to a scene, the operators reference Rave Mobile Safety and if a swatting concern has been registered, they can flag it for first responders. This changes the way emergency services approach the alleged emergency, without slowing down critical response time. How to register for Rave Mobile Safety.
"When you log in and register on our anti-swatting registry, your information is confidential and will be protected and will not be released, even to those who use the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) system," said Sgt. Whitcomb.
It's a ten-step process to register online and it's completely free.
"This is part of internet culture and we've seen the elevated toxicity and the willingness to adapt and commit new crimes and in some cases, those crimes are really just to target people that folks don't like, that they want to silence, that they want to harass. Swatting can be a hate crime," Sgt. Whitcomb said.
People who are caught making a "swatting" call can be prosecuted in court.