SWATting Justice For Pranksters? It's No Joke.
Prank and crank phone calls can probably be traced back not long after the invention of the telephone.
"Watson, come here. I need you - to bite my..." - One of many quotes not said by Alexander Graham Bell
Even with the creation of Caller ID, there's a lot of anonymity for the crank. And what else can match that giggly and impish (the NICEST word I could think of) surge of sadistic, childish satisfaction of being a troublemaker?
But, that was before SWATting became the latest rage, including game ragers. The term refers to police Special Weapons And Tactics units who respond to critical situations like armed robberies, hostage situations and live shooter events. SWATting someone goes beyond just making a crank call to police.
The SWATter phones 911, often blocking their number or even substituting another (their target's own phone number if they can). The caller then raves about a horrifying situation or promising that they will cause unknown mayhem, etc. Anything to bring the cavalry coming. Sounds harmless, right?
After all, no one's died from SWATting. Yet.
Death by Cop?
That's the optimal word isn't it? Yet. With the growing militarism and hair-trigger reaction of law-enforcement, coupled with so many self-entitled and spoiled youth who value winning to the Nth degree, the chances of a SWAT prank going horribly awry increase. But, some sociopathic callers might be disappointed in the lack of bloodshed so far.
You couldn't blame the police if they roll up on a situation being told that armed people were causing mayhem. There was a tragic event in Ohio where a young black man in a department store was walking around with a BB gun he was intending to purchase. The police arrived and shot him on sight. And this wasn't from a prank, but a 911 call by well-intentioned people.
Crank calling the cops on someone is NOT new, but police don't take those calls lightly. They don't just send a cruiser with two guys to 'check things out' anymore, now they may send a platoon in an APC.
Maybe this escalation is one of the more inviting aspects to pranksters. 'How much of a cluster can we cause by a single phone call?' After all, getting such a big response is like racking up a 4 or 5 star chase in GTA...
And I hate to bring this little nugget up, but given the recent issues in Ferguson, MO., the chances of things going South could go up even more dramatically if an intended prank victim is a young, black male living in poor urban area. Considering some of the hateful racist comments heard in-game chats, can one really imagine a SWAT call being off the table for some loser brat in need of payback?
Online and Offline Assault
Pranking used to be considered a very minor, almost nuisance charge. A misdemeanor punishment of a fine or a court appearance on the outside. Oh, you know those goofy kids, shucks.
But, with the no tolerance reaction of sending a dozen vehicles with armed police officers to kick in a person's door, take them down and cuff them, the offense for a false report is going up. The expenditure of so much manpower means potential felony charges, especially for repeat offenders, let alone if anyone is injured during the unneeded arrest and seizure.
Earlier this year (May 8th) , the Ottawa Police Department in Canada arrested an unnamed suspect (due to being underage). This youngster was calling in fake bombs, shooters, and hostage takings across Canada and in several U.S. states. He was pretty proud of his efforts.
Going by the Twitter ID of @ProbablyOnion (which is now closed), he would even offer himself as a service to others wanting to pull a SWATing prank.
Feel free to follow the Ottawa link above to the report, which mentions the 60 criminal charges for victimizing 30 targets (mostly schools).
There is also an FBI report linked from that article to confirm it. Included in ProbablyOnion's hit list was Brian Krebs, reporter for KrebsonSecurity. Mr. Krebs found several guns pointing at him one day. Krebs also came under cyber attack at the same time.
After the SWAT prank on Kootra, the gamer arrested while he was live streaming Counter-Strike, a follow-up article was posted on the National Report saying the prankster was caught. As justifying as this sounds, it was a SATIRE article and escalated the jokester's punishment, saying he was charged with two counts of felony domestic terrorism and would be jailed for life.
(This picture, right, accompanying the National Report article was actually from a murder trial.)
Again, that arrest article was proven to be a hoax, but it's one a lot of folks wanted to believe in. Which indicates that many people feel this type of behavior has to be stopped, because it's fun and games for now, but it won't take much to change that.
Some other SWATters, who REALLY have been arrested:
But the question is, what will it take? A victim getting killed? A SWATter being sentenced to life in jail for 'homicide by cop'? Civil suits to recover damages?
Then, there's the matter of police response. Will departments alter how they approach unknown situations? A hesitated or restricted response to real threat could result in lives lost. However, continuing down the same path of battering ram-style arrests means higher risk of an innocent being shot or worse. There are no easy answers.
So, while Kootra's prankster hasn't been caught and sentenced to life, many who read that article were thinking 'if only.'