TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Perpetrators of a potentially deadly prank known as “swatting” will face stiffer penalties if the governor approves a bill currently awaiting his signature.
Swatting is when a person falsely calls in a threat to law enforcement to get them to raid another person’s home.
In December 2018, Wichita police received a call from a man claiming to have killed his father and holding the rest of his family hostage.
They arrived at the home of Andrew Fintch, who was shot and killed by police as he came out of his front door. But Fintch hadn’t committed a crime.
Instead, he was the victim of a so-called prank known as swatting.
“I don’t know what the intentions were or the mindset of those that kind of began this, if you will, phenomenon. But certainly, they didn’t think through the ultimate potential repercussions. And in some cases people have died,” said State Sen. Jim Boyd, who sponsored swatting crackdown legislation in the 2021 Florida Legislative Session.
Swatting began in the online gaming community.
Generally, a person broadcasting their gameplay has their address leaked and someone calls in a threat, sending police to their residence.
Oftentimes the ensuing police raid on the unwitting streamer is captured on video.
But gamers aren’t the only targets of swatting.
Celebrities, including Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus, Snoop Dogg, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood, have also been victims of swatting incidents.
“We are seeing it become more prevalent,” said Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry.
Touchberry also works with the Florida Police Chiefs Association, which brought the issue to the attention of the State Legislature, and asked lawmakers to increase penalties for those who commit the crime.
“False reports to the police are happening all across the nation that are resulting in death or serious bodily injury to innocent people, putting officers’ lives in jeopardy and putting public safety in general in jeopardy,” said Touchberry.
If the governor signs the bill, swatters would face five to 15 years in prison, depending on the cost incurred by law enforcement and whether the incident resulted in bodily harm or death.
“The penalties that we put in place will be a deterrent to this crime and hopefully save resources and save lives,” said Boyd.
The governor has until June 18 to act on the legislation.