Legislation Would Increase Penalties for Swatting Incidents

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In the recent days, there has been an unfortunate increase in false reports of active shooter incidents at schools across New York. The Ballston Spa School district for example, had a report that led to a large police presence. Such incidences lead to a heightened degree of stress, fear, anxiety and depression among students, families, and even police officers.

In response, Senators Jim Tedisco, Mark Walczyk, and Dean Murray, joined by Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo and Ballston Spa Mayor Frank Rossi, Jr. are urging passage of legislation to make the act of “swatting” a class E Felony in New York.

“Swatting” refers to making a false report of potential violence to bring about a large dispatch of heavily armed law enforcement to a predetermined address or location.

The Senate bill (S.4283) is sponsored by Senator Walczyk, and co-sponsored by Tedisco and Murray. it would increase the penalty for swatting from the current class A misdemeanor (up to one year in jail) to a class E felony which carries a penalty of one-and-a-half to four years in state prison. 

The Assembly bill (A.2977) is sponsored by Assemblyman Scott Gray. Both the Senate and Assembly bills are in the codes committees in their respective houses. 

“Heightened penalties on these egregious acts will open up tools for law enforcement to gather and prosecute the bad actors,” Walczyk said. “I look forward to working with the Governor and partners in the Senate and the Assembly to finally get this bill done.” 

According to the bill’s justification, Watertown Police had to respond to a particular house on five separate occasions for a report of a shooting. Three of the five times they showed up, they had long guns drawn out and pointed at the house which induced fear and anxiety among 81- year old mother, 88- year old father, a 16-year-old-son and very young children. 

As a separate case, a video game being played over the internet led to the same house being falsely reported of a fire leading to firefighters showing up to the residence. In all these cases, both the families and police officers are victims of swatting, which puts police officers in a difficult situation, as they cannot risk not responding and face backlash when the incident turns out to be true.

In another recent incident in Onondaga County, deputies responded to a suspected “swatting” call after a man called 911 claiming he shot and killed his girlfriend, according to the bill memo. Officials say the man also indicated he would shoot responding law enforcement officers. SWAT members responded to the scene and nearby homes and businesses were told to shelter in place and roads were closed off to all traffic during the incident.

Some of these cases of swatting are in fact tragic, as seen in the case of an innocent man in Kansas who fatally shot by a police officer when the officer thought he was reaching for a gun but he was in fact unarmed. The victim was unfortunately swatted by another man in Los Angeles over a disagreement that happened in an online video game. The perpetrator in Los Angeles was later arrested.

“With these terror calls, it’s becoming open season on spreading fear, stress, anxiety, and depression throughout our vulnerable student bodies as well as staff and their families. These contacts threatening violence in our schools is another form of terrorism which cannot be allowed to stand,” Tedisco said.

“There have been 50 cases of Swatting at school districts all across the State, including districts on Long Island. Let me be clear, Swatting is not funny and its not cool, but it is dangerous and illegal. That is why I’m proud to team with my colleagues, Senators Walczyk and Tedisco, to introduce legislation to give police the tools they need to crack down on this irresponsible and dangerous trend,” Sen. Murray said.