An active shooter on a school campus is an unfortunate but real threat to America’s educational institutions. The most recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, has put parents, school personnel, and law enforcement on high alert.
This heightened sensitivity is aggravated by a rash of swatting – a practice of reporting active shooters at a school when no real danger exists. It is called swatting because the report often draws a response from tactical units such as SWAT teams.
The false report of an emergency is illegal in California. Swatting is classified in statute as “Other Offenses Against Public Justice.” Depending on the details of the offense, the crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Schools Swatted in Orange County
In mid-October 2022, local law enforcement agencies around the U.S. received numerous false reports of active shooters at area schools. Schools in Santa Ana and Oceanside were among those forced into lockdown while police investigated the reports. Schools in Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Florida were among the campuses swatted.
According to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), about 28 states and the District of Columbia have been swatting targets between mid-September to late October. Many of the incidents followed a similar pattern. A man with a thick accent, who seemed to be reading from a script, called in many of the threats. Law enforcement has traced with IP address of some calls to Ethiopia. IP addresses can be disguised, however.
NASRO Executive Director Mo Canady told NPR that active shooter swatting is more dangerous than fake bomb threats.
“If we get a call that someone is actively shooting, injuring, killing people, that's a whole different matter. That requires really an all-out response,” he said.
Consequences of Swatting
Like other offenses, the possible consequences are determined by the details of what transpired and the defendant’s criminal record.
Penal Code 148.3 outlines potential charges and penalties:
- Any individual who reports a false emergency to any city, county, city-county, or state department, district, agency, division, commission, or board, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to 1 year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
- The swatter is guilty of a felony if they know or should know that the law enforcement response is likely to cause death or great bodily injury, and great bodily injury or death is sustained by any person.
- The felony is punishable with incarceration (depending on the underlying details) and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
A convicted defendant is also liable to a public agency for the reasonable costs of the emergency response by that public agency.
Anyone Can Be a Swatting Target
Schools are not the only targets of swatters. Governmental agencies, businesses, and individuals are also victims of the illegal practice. The results can be deadly.
In 2019, a Los Angeles man was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison after falsely reporting a hostage situation in Wichita, KS. The Police responded with full force, which led to the shooting death of a completely innocent man. The entire incident resulted from a feud between people playing an online video game.
Swatters have different motivations. Some think it is funny (it is not) while others want victims to fear for their lives. In other cases, swatters hope to create chaos and watch the response play out.
Criminal Defense for Swatting Crimes
At Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC, our defense team believes every America deserves high-level legal representation. We go beyond the surface level to identify targeted strategies to help our clients.
If you are accused of swatting or another crime, contact the defenders and former prosecutors at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC. Discuss your criminal case with our team. Contact us today by calling (949) 251-0330.