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Deliberately False Alerts In Central New York Are Spurring Costly & Unnecessary Deployment Of Armed Swat Teams, Bomb Squads & Other Police Units, Causing The Evacuation Of Buildings, Closure Of Streets, Businesses & Putting Communities At 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 Prank Is No Joke For Syracuse Residents 

Today, at John H. Mulroy Civic Center, standing alongside police officers dispatched to a recent false threat, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced his recently introduced legislation that will crack down on an alarming new nationwide crime trend called “swatting,” which has recently emerged as a problem in Central New York. Schumer explained that “swatting” is an incident in which a phone call is made reporting a fake threat 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 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 lead to temporary street closures that result in local business loss, terrifying experiences for residents and bystanders and can cost police departments thousands of taxpayer dollars. Schumer said that there have been three recent “swatting” attacks in and around Syracuse, including one last week that resulted in the evacuation of over 1,100 workers at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Edward Kochian County Office Building, and Jobsplus!. Schumer said communities are at great risk if nothing is done to stem this scourge of attacks. Schumer therefore discussed legislation he recently introduced that would increase penalties for perpetrators and make criminals pay restitution to police.

“These dangerous actions are 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 pushing legislation that will increase the jail time for ‘swatting’ perpetrators, force them to pay restitution for the cost of investigating fake calls, and I am pushing for legislation that will 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 stop this disturbing trend before it is too late and someone gets seriously hurt.”

Schumer said that there have been at least three Syracuse area “swatting” attacks in recent years 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 introduced legislation that would seek to reduce the number of “swatting” attacks. Last week, there was one incident that resulted in the evacuation of over 1,100 workers at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Edward Kochian County Office Building, and Jobsplus! Several local streets near the civic center were closed while law enforcement and K-9 crews scoured the building. Only after these units, including the Onondaga and surrounding County Sheriff's Offices, searched the building for hours was it realized there was no imminent threat. Schumer said local police officers reported that the emergency response, cost the department time and money when they could have been responding to other crimes and emergencies.

There have been other “swatting” incidents in Onondaga County in recent years. The most recent “swatting” attack in North Syracuse, in March, required a large gathering of sheriff’s deputies and emergency crews to block of South Main Street for hours. In this case, Onondaga County 911 dispatchers received a call reported as a stabbing. When first responders arrived, they found the call to be a hoax by people playing video games online, hoping to watch as SWAT teams swarm their unsuspecting gaming opponents. Last year in the Town of Onondaga, dispatchers received a call from someone outside New York State to report that their mother had been shot at her home on Howlett Hill Road, demanding a rapid response from local law enforcement only to find this call to be a prank.

Schumer was joined by Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, Onondaga County Sheriff Gene Conway, and Onondaga Deputy Sheriff Jason Cassalia.  

“Last week’s false threat to the Civic Center was a waste of time and money for our employees, the members of the public who were unable to receive services and our Sheriff's Office who spent hours ensuring the building was safe,” said Onondaga County ExecutiveJoanie Mahoney. “Although law enforcement responded to the threat swiftly and efficiently, Senator Schumer’s legislation to crack down on offenders will be a powerful tool.”

“Falsely reporting an emergency not only expends taxpayer resources, but puts the safety of first responders and all our community at risk. Holding those that choose to commit this crime accountable is a priority, and Senator Schumer's legislation will do just that,” said Onondaga Sheriff Gene Conway.

In light of the recent uptick in “swatting” attacks in Syracuse and Central NY, as well as around the country, Schumer pushed his 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 supporting two other bills, the Anti-Spoofing Act and the Anti-Swatting Act, which 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.

Schumer said 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-Swatting Act, an effort led by Congressman Elliot Engel, which will update theTruth 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. Schumer said that the Engel legislation, as well as legislation authored by fellow New Yorker Grace Meng, called the Anti-Spoofing Act, would explicitly outlaw these types of calls. 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.