Why ‘swatting’ calls to US schools are becoming a big concern
(NewsNation) — Swatting incidents targeting U.S. schools and colleges have been making headlines for months, with dozens being reported in the days after a deadly shooting at an elementary school in Nashville, Tenn.
These hoax calls, according to experts, pose real risks for the community by pulling police from actual emergencies, or wasting resources or time. They also disrupt communities, and can be psychologically draining.
It doesn’t help that hoax school shooting calls, or swatting calls, are seemingly happening at an alarming rate.
“From my perspective, this is a form of terrorism,” former FBI intelligence analyst Jennifer Doebler said.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen Massachusetts schools were the targets of swatting calls. On Wednesday, first responders responded to calls regarding schools in Utah, Pennsylvania, California and Kansas, the list growing throughout the day.
When the calls come in, schools and law enforcement take action. Students barricade themselves in classrooms and parents find themselves receiving nightmarish phone calls.
This week’s hoax calls claiming to report an active shooter were all deemed to be fake. But the emotional effect is real, especially when the hoaxes come on the heels of a real shooting, like the one at The Covenant School that claimed the lives of three children and three adults.
“This is a way to inflict pain and terror on local communities, on families,” Doebler said. “It’s also a way to drain resources. It’s a way to learn about communities and what their responses are. It’s a way to occupy law enforcement resources for long periods of time.”
Even the least credible calls require police to respond in full force, and can be a drain on law enforcement resources, particularly in rural communities.
Swatting isn’t a new phenomenon, but the practice is becoming more common.
Hundreds of cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID spoofing to disguise their number. The goal is to get authorities, particularly a SWAT team, to respond to an address.
To complicate issues more, it’s difficult to even track the exact number of swatting instances, because the FBI does not track swatting as its own crime. But estimates of swatting cases in the U.S jumped from 400 cases in 2011 to more than 1,000 in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
One key difference between the calls from then and today is technology. Previously, offenders did not have the capabilities to mask numbers or use a voice-over IP service to make calls.
In a press release Wednesday regarding the series of swatting calls in Western Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Police said all the calls “had had similar content.” The calls were also computer-generated.
“And so it was much easier to identify perpetrators and to hold them accountable. It’s a wildly different, different situation. Now, many times these swatting incidents come from overseas,” Doebler explained.
Doebler’s own family was recently the victim of swatting.
“It’s something that our community is still feeling. Even a month later, as we continue to watch things happen in other parts of the country. It’s not just financial, it takes a mental and emotional toll on communities for long periods of time they go far beyond the morning or the day of the incident,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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