04.20.15

NATIONWIDE RASH OF ‘SWATTING’ ATTACKS NOW THREATENING LOCAL ROCHESTER RESIDENTS, COSTING LAW ENFORCEMENT THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS WHEN WRONGDOERS CALL IN FALSE THREATS; SCHUMER INTRODUCES NEW BILL TO CRACK DOWN ON SWATTING AND DETER ALARMING NEW CRIME TREND; OVER 12 SWATTING ATTACKS IN ROCHESTER HAVE TRIGGERED POLICE SWAT TEAMS TO RESPOND TO HOMES

Deliberately False Alerts In Rochester Are Causing The Deployment Of Armed SWAT Teams, Bomb Squads, And Other Police Units, to Unsuspecting Area Residents & Causing the Closure of Streets, Businesses; Resulting In A Terrifying Experience For Victims & Puts Communities At Great Risk 

Schumer Introduces Legislation To Increase Penalties For Swatting Perpetrators From a Max of 5 Years In Prison To 8 Years, Make Criminals Pay Restitution to Police –Also Pushes to Closes Loophole to Make it Illegal for Perpetrators to Evade Law Enforcement by Disguising Caller ID over Skype, or Internet Calls 

Schumer: Swatting is Not Just “A Boy Who Cries Wolf,” It Has Serious Consequences – Costs Rochester Thousands Of Tax Payer Dollars & Endangers First Responders and Innocent Bystanders

Near the site of a recent “swatting” attack on Park Avenue in Rochester, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced legislation to crack down on an alarming new nationwide crime trend called “swatting” that has recently emerged as a problem in Rochester. Schumer explained that “swatting” is an incident in which a fake phone call is made in an effort to have police SWAT teams respond to an unsuspecting resident’s home. Schumer said these false alerts are not only terrifying residents, but they are also costing law enforcement departments thousands of dollars and putting at risk both first responders and innocent bystanders. Because these false threats often precipitate SWAT responses that require the deployment of  armed SWAT teams, bomb squads and other police units, “swatting” calls can often lead to temporary street closures that result in local business loss, terrifying experiences for residents and bystanders who fall victim to the attacks, and can cost police departments thousands of taxpayer dollars. Schumer said that there have been over 12 Rochester-area “swatting” attacks in recent years, including two within the past month in Penfield and on Park Avenue in Rochester and communities are at great risk if nothing is done to stem this scourge of attacks. Schumer therefore discussed legislation he is introducing that would increase penalties for perpetrators, make criminals pay restitution to police, and close a loophole in federal law that would make it illegal for these wrongdoers to evade the law by disguising their identity by making “swatting” calls through Internet platforms like Skype.

“These dangerous pranks are, in fact, not ‘pranks’ at all – these ‘swatting’ attacks are serious incidents in which our emergency responders use up their time, energy, and resources responding to false threats when they could have been elsewhere protecting the community from real ones. What the perpetrators of these calls see as a practical joke is actually a terrifying experience for innocent bystanders, a business-detractor for local commerce, and a costly crime that forces our local emergency responders to use up thousands of taxpayer dollars on fake alerts. That's why I am introducing legislation that will increase the jail time for ‘swatting’ perpetrators, force them to pay restitution for the cost of investigating fake calls, and close the existing loophole on internet phone calls to make disguising your caller ID to law enforcement a crime,” said Schumer. “We need to make sure that every time a 9-1-1 dispatcher answers a call that it is a real emergency, and we need to swat down this disturbing trend before it is too late and someone is seriously hurt.”

Schumer explained that “swatting” is an incident in which a false report is made in an effort to solicit a police response where emergency teams, including SWAT units, are dispatched to an unsuspecting resident’s home. These kinds of episodes often result in the deployment of bomb squads, crisis negotiators, multiple SWAT units, and additional police units, among others because the perpetrators allege circumstances such as bomb making and hostage situations. Schumer explained that, because these accusations are often so serious and have the potential to be highly dangerous for responders and those involved, multiple emergency teams and units can be dispatched. These responses can also call elicit the evacuation or temporary closing of schools and businesses. Because police have a duty and obligation to respond to these threats, they take them very seriously. That is why, Schumer said, it is incredibly dangerous for bystanders when area police departments respond to these presumed dangerous situations and why Schumer is introducing this legislation to deter would-be perpetrators from making a swatting call.

Schumer said that there have been over 12 Rochester-area “swatting” attacks recently and communities will continue to be at great risk if nothing is done to stem this scourge of perpetrators. Schumer said that is why he is introducing legislation that would seek to reduce the number of swatting attacks.

In light of the recent uptick in “swatting” attacks in the Rochester area and around the country, Schumer announced that he would introduce new legislation that will increase penalties for wrongdoers who call police forces to falsely accuse innocent residents of participating in illegal actions. First, this legislation would have convicted swatting perpetrators serve a maximum of 8 years in prison, an increase from the 5 year maximum currently in place. Second, the legislation would also ensure perpetrators pay restitution to the police and cover any damage inflicted on the house by the SWAT team. The first responders include the police force, K-9 unit, bomb squad, crisis negotiator, county sheriffs and any party that wasted time, energy and resources as a result of a swatting incident. Finally, Schumer is support a bill, the Anti-Spoofing Act that would close loopholes to make it illegal for perpetrators to disguise their caller ID over Skype or Internet phones, as that is typically a means in which perpetrators escape the law. Collectively, Schumer said this would reduce swatting calls, save taxpayers money, and make local New York communities safer.

The most recent swatting attack in Rochester occurred at 639 Park Avenue, where Schumer stood during his visit. During the incident, the Rochester Police Department received a call where the perpetrator reported a fellow resident had four hostages in an apartment at 639 Park Avenue with a gun and a bomb. The caller demanded police pay a ransom to ensure the safe release of the hostages. Rochester PD dispatched 25 members of the SWAT team, a bomb unit, a hostage negotiator and K9 units to the house at a nearby intersection. Once police units entered the apartment, they realized there was no imminent threat. Police shut down nearby streets for 3 hours, at which point it was determined the phone call was fake. The ordeal cost the Rochester PD over $3,000 for the SWAT team's response alone, plus the cost of the responding support police personnel and the cost incurred from broken doors at the 639 Park Avenue house.

Schumer said swatting is a dangerous practice because it not only puts innocent residents in harm's way, but it forces highly trained SWAT teams and other police resources to respond to fake threats, like the one at 639 Park Ave., when they could have been investigating a legitimate one. Schumer said this was only one of the more than 12 recent attacks in the Rochester area and the second of two within the past month. Just two weeks before the Park Avenue Attack, the Monroe County Sheriff’s office received a call from Crime Stoppers claiming there was a man with a gun holding hostages in a suburban Penfield home.  A dozen Monroe County Sheriff’s SWAT team members with guns drawn descended on the house and took up position to assess the situation.  The resident, a local woman was getting ready to watch some television and then go to bed when the Monroe County Sheriff SWAT team called her to instruct her to exit her house.  As she stepped out of her house she was terrified to confront by a dozen SWAT members with their guns drawn and aimed at her.  Similarly three years ago Irondequoit resident Don Gramlich was the victim of a swatting Attack and the suburban Irondequoit home he shares with his wife.  Irondequoit Police surrounded the house and took up position and ordered him to exist his house where he was confronted with a mass of police.  

In October 2014, the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department and the New York State Police responded to a call placed through Skype reporting that a man inside the house had killed his family.  State Police and Ontario County Sheriff’s officers responded and closed down a 1-mile stretch of road for nearly three hours while neighbors were instructed to lockdown and shelter in their homes. The investigation is still ongoing and the investigation has included use of an expert in computer crime to try and trace the origin of the Skype call. 

As evidenced in the Victor, NY incident and in many cases across the country, many of the swatting calls are placed via Skype or other internet-based phone systems that more easily enables the caller to use available apps or websites to disguise their phone number or actually make it seem like the call is coming from a house they are targeting-a practice dubbed "caller ID Spoofing."  Currently it is illegal to spoof on calls placed via traditional phone lines, but there is no such prohibition on calls placed via internet phone services.  That's why Schumer is also announcing his support of the “Anti-Spoofing Act” that passed the House of Representatives last year which will update the Truth In Caller ID Act of 2009. That legislation first criminalized malicious caller ID spoofing. But since the passage of that law, scammers and swatters have used legal loopholes and new technologies such as internet-based phone services that enable callers to make outgoing calls from computers to mobile and landline phones. This is a technology that was undeveloped in 2009 when the Truth In Caller ID Act was enacted, and therefore unaccounted for in the law. But it has now grown, and has been exploited by swatters to mask their identity from law enforcement.  

There have been similar calls made in Brighton and Gates. Schumer said that police cannot take chances in deciding whether a call is real or fake, and thus must expend all necessary resources to investigate the report.

Schumer was joined by the Rochester Police Department SWAT team commander Lieutenant Aaron Springer, Ontario County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Brad Falkey, Irondequoit Police Department Chief Richard Tantalo, Lieutenant John Ott from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and Mr. Don Gramlich a victim of a swatting Attack in Irondequoit.

“Swatting is a crime trend of national scope and our region has not been immune. It can endanger not only the victims, but the lives of people in neighborhoods where these criminal callers target.  I appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts to increase penalties to help deter these crimes and punish offenders,” said Ontario County Sheriff Department Lt. Brad Falkey.

“Swatting is a crime that can not only needlessly endanger first responders, but also the general public and nearby residents and businesses,” said Rochester Police Department Lt. Aaron Springer. “As we saw firsthand this month on Park Avenue, it can cost taxpayers and law enforcement thousands of dollars and we appreciate Senator Schumer’s efforts to crack down on this rash of swatting crimes.”

###



Previous Article Next Article