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Schumer Pushes Measure To Crackdown On False SWAT Calls

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Senator Charles Schumer has introduced legislation to deter a new crime trend that's costing law enforcement thousands of dollars. 

It's called "swatting." Schumer says it has become a "significant problem" in the Capital Region. It happens when a phone call is made in an effort to get police SWAT teams deployed to an unsuspecting person's home.    "Like, there’s a bomb in this house. I’m holding a hostage here. Somebody’s ready to jump off a roof. All kinds of different things."

Across America, Schumer says a rash of swatting attacks has already cost millions of dollars. The legislation would increase penalties for the perpetrators and make them pay restitution to police.   "Here's what our legislation does. It increases the penalty dramatically to eight years in prison. This is a serious crime. And you'd have to serve eight years in prison. The usual criminal penalty for falsely reporting a fire is just one year. There is a four-year maximum, it's rarely used.  Second, we make the swatting perpetrator pay for all the costs. If they know that this costs something and they have to pay for it, they're going to greatly decrease. And third, and listen to this, this is the most surprising part of all, it is now illegal to do a false call to your police if you use a landline, but the way the law is written, it's not a crime to do a false call if you use a cellphone, an iPhone. Why that is? Lord knows. I guess when they wrote the law originally there were no cell phones or iPhones."

Chief Jonathan Teale adds the perpetrators in two Colonie cases were never brought to justice.  "Swatting is a serious act and the consequences for those who cause it should be serious as well. It needlessly endangers citizens and first responders and wastes our limited local resources. Any measure that helps prevent, investigate and prosecute these incidents is greatly appreciated."

Schumer says each phony incident in which SWAT teams, bomb squads, and hostage negotiators are dispatched can cost tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars.  A SWAT mission also terrifies residents and bystanders who fall victim to the attacks and often leads to temporary street closures that hurt local businesses.   "Our Capital Region works closely with the federal officials in terms of terrrorism. This would expand that and allow them to work in teh same kind of sync when it comes to swatting, but now it's not a federal crime so the feds don't focus on it as much as they should."

Schumer says the measure has broad support - he expects it to move "pretty quickly" through the channels to become the law of the land.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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