Witkos Proposes Bill to Make “Swatting” a Felony

January 11, 2017

Article from the Republican-American

HARTFORD – A top state lawmaker is proposing to make “swatting” a felony in Connecticut to crack down on hoaxers who make emergency calls to trigger big police responses.

“Swatting” is falsely reporting an emergency such as a home invasion, an active shooter, or a hostage situation to get law enforcement or emergency responders to immediately respond to a location where no emergency exists.

At this time, swatting technically is not a crime in Connecticut, but anyone caught creating a false incident could be charged with several crimes, including misusing 911, breach of peace, threatening and falsely reporting a death.

Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, a retired police officer and the second-ranking GOP leader in the Senate, introduced legislation that would create a new crime to specifically punish this disturbing trend. It would carry a maximum prison sentence of five years.

“It is sad that we have to contemplate legislation in this day and age, but it is certainly needed,” he said.

The Senate on Monday referred Senate Bill 26 to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

In July, a woman called 911 to report that her 3-year-old son had gone missing beneath the shallow water of Burr Pond in Torrington, prompting a three-hour search by more than 40 police officers and firefighters.

Police later found the mobile phone used to place the call in the women’s restroom at the state park. To date, no arrest has been made.

Witkos said the incident at Burr Pond State Park in his district partly inspired the legislation that he introduced. He noted the hoax call followed the drowning of a 4-year-old boy there 10 days earlier.

In addition to creating a new crime, Witkos said he wants the legislature to authorize state judges to order hoaxers to repay municipalities and the state for the costs of responding to false emergency calls.

“Dollars are tight. Emergency services are there for people who need them,” he said.

The response to the Burr Pond incident cost at least $2,700.

Swatting has been growing steadily since the FBI first issued warnings about it in 2008, following a case out of Washington state, where a teenager called police to say he had murdered someone but made it appear that the call came from the home of a married couple in California.

Nationwide, the FBI estimates there are 400 swatting incidents every year.

While some might consider swatting a prank, law enforcement and emergency responders say it is dangerous, terrorizing victims and placing both victims and responders at risk.