In what appears to be the latest case in a dangerous national trend, a call about a threat on a Long Island, N.Y., home Tuesday had police and SWAT teams surrounding the place with guns drawn, as they suspected an armed man there had killed people and taken hostages. They took tactical positions around the home for two hours until a teenager inside took a break from playing “Call of Duty” and realized his house was surrounded.
Investigators now think one of the teen’s opponents called in the threat as a prank, the latest in a hoax trend called "swatting," where the perpetrator calls in a threat to police and directs them to someone else’s house. In this case, a young male had called 911 and said he had killed his mother and brother, and would kill police responding to the scene. He gave an address in the Long Island city of Long Beach to the operator and hung up. Long Beach police were joined by Nassau County SWAT teams, MTA police and an ambulance responding to the scene.
In the “bizarre world of swatting,” the perpetrators “get points for the helicopter, for the police cars, for the SWAT team, for the type of entry,” Michael Tagney, the city of Long Beach police commissioner, told CBS. “It’s very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous.”
The FBI and the Department of Justice are now assisting the investigation, according to ABC News. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice issued a statement saying the response cost tens of thousands of dollars in an “outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars.”
"Through a collaboration with our law enforcement partners, we will use every tool we have to track down whoever threatens public safety like this," Rice said in the statement. "'Swatting' is a serious crime that endangers first responders and those in legitimate need of their help. We will hold any perpetrators accountable and seek restitution for the tax dollars wasted."
One “swatting” hoax in March that could have ended tragically involved a YouTube personality who responded to what he thought were prowlers in his yard with a shotgun, only to find out that it was a SWAT team investigating a call. The video blogger put down his weapon when he realized it was the police, and was unharmed.
As “swatting” sends armed police on high alert to unsuspecting homes, is it only a matter of time before a victim injures police, or gets hurt himself? The FBI estimates that around 400 “swatting” hoaxes are perpetrated each year, according to a spokesperson contacted by International Business Times. To mask their identity, callers use devices like the "MagicJack," smartphone apps like "Burner," and services intended to help the deaf make calls. Relay services for the deaf and hard of hearing do not store any information out of privacy concerns, and operators have to interact with every computer user who contacts them, even if the call sounds ludicrous.
Despite the tools that perpetrators have at their disposal, officials say they will track down the person responsible for “swatting” the Long Beach family. It is only a matter of time, Commissioner Tangney said.
"We have them identified by screen names and things of that nature. To get their actual names is going to take a little bit of time," he told ABC.