SCHUMER: ‘SWATTING’ ATTACKS ON DRAMATIC RISE ACROSS HUDSON VALLEY—RECENT ATTACK CAUSED A SCHOOL TO GO ON LOCKDOWN, AND ARE COSTING POLICE DEPTS. THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, TERRIFYING INNOCENT VICTIMS & EVEN ENDANGERING LIVES; SCHUMER INTRODUCES NEW FEDERAL BILL TO CRACK DOWN ON ‘SWATTING’ & DETER ALARMING NEW CRIME TREND THREATENING RESIDENTS & LAW ENFORCEMENT
Deliberately False Alerts in Westchester, Rockland & Putnam 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: Consequence of Swatting Prank Is No Joke For Westchester & Hudson Valley Residents
At the Eastchester Town Hall & Police Station, standing alongside police officers dispatched to a recent attack, 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 Westchester and the Hudson Valley. 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 four recent “swatting” attacks in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam, including one incident that caused a school to go on lockdown. 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. Additionally, Schumer is pushing legislation that would close a loophole in federal law and 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 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 four Lower Hudson Valley “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. In April, local police and SWAT teams flooded the Eastchester neighborhood at 1 Joyce Road when a caller reportedly told authorities that he had stabbed his girlfriend and was holding her family hostage inside the home. The surrounding community was blocked off for roughly three hours as police officers from several surrounding police departments, including Eastchester, Greenburgh, New Rochelle, Bronxville, Pelham and Tuckahoe, reported to the scene of the alleged crime. SWAT teams from Eastchester, Bronxville, Pelham and Tuckahoe were also dispatched, in addition to the Westchester County helicopter that landed at a neighboring school to help the potential victims. Once these units descended upon and entered the home, they realized there was no imminent threat. Schumer said local police officers reported that the emergency response, in addition to the SWAT team’s dispatching, cost the department time and money when they could have been responding to other crimes and emergencies.
There have been three other “swatting” attacks in the Lower Hudson Valley area in recent years. The most recent “swatting” attack in Garrison located in Putnam County, in May, resulted in Garrison Union Free School along with the nearly Haldane Elementary and High Schools in Cold Spring to order precautionary lock-downs at those campuses. State Route 9D was also closed to traffic four two hours while police and SWAT teams responded to a scene where the caller reported that a woman and her son were being held hostage and at gunpoint. Upon entering the home, located on Route 9D, police special weapons forces and the SWAT unit realized the threat was a fake. In a July 2014 incident in Rye located in Westchester County, police and SWAT teams were dispatched from Rye, Harrison, and Westchester County when a report of an armed man invading a nearby suburban home was called in. Area emergency responders descended upon the home in an attempt to remove the family from the house when the search came up empty and it was found no one was home. The call apparently was reported through Skype. Finally, in a March 2011 incident at Mercy College in Rockland County, fake 9-1-1 calls were made to the Rockland County Sheriff's office. The caller reported a planned shooting at college and police reported that they believed the caller was using a voice-alteration device in order to make this false report.
Schumer was joined by Eastchester Town Supervisor Anthony Colavita and members of the Eastchester Police Department. Schumer also praised Representative Eliot Engel, who is championing companion legislation in the House of Representatives, for his work on the issue.
In light of the recent uptick in “swatting” attacks in Westchester and the Hudson Valley, 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 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. 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.
“In 2010, Congress passed, and the President signed in to law, my bill titled the Truth in Caller ID Act. The Truth in Caller ID Act made it a crime to use caller ID to deceive or defraud any individual, an act known as ‘spoofing.’ In New York alone, we have seen a rash of swatting incidents the last few weeks, including one in the Eastchester section of my district where police responded to what turned out to be a fake hostage situation. These hoaxes force courageous first responders to waste precious time and resources every time they occur, and put innocent people at risk by creating volatile situations unnecessarily,” said Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce. “In response to this growing issue, I introduced H.R. 2031, the Anti-Swatting Act. This strong bill would increase penalties for those found guilty of swatting and require them to reimburse law enforcement agencies for squandered resources, thus holding perpetrators financially and criminally responsible for their actions in a way current law does not. Stronger laws to deter swatting just make sense, which is why my bill has garnered bipartisan support in the House. I applaud Senator Schumer for sharing my concerns about swatting, and for making combating it legislative priority in the Senate. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Schumer to pass vital legislation to bring an end to swatting.”
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