There is a nationwide trend, heavily in use among the gaming community, that is playing Police Department deficiencies against unwitting citizens. It’s called swatting and is beyond repugnant.
The basic aspect of the game is that through one of several means, a phone number is spoofed and the prankster (a name that belittles the seriousness of this crime) calls the police and reports that some horrific murder and hostage situation is occurring at a specific address. The goal is to get the biggest police response possible to the target’s house. According to what the Long Beach Police Commissioner told the Huffington Post:
“In this … bizarre world of swatting, you get points for the helicopter, for the police cars, for the SWAT team, for the type of entry,” Michael Tangney, Long Beach police commissioner, told CBS New York. “It’s very sophisticated. Unfortunately, it’s very dangerous.”
I tried to find a website that had the so called rules and point system for this swatting game, but my brief use of Goggle found nothing. Not surprised, this isn’t really something those playing want the police to discover.
In a recent case in Long Island, the result of the prank was a $100,000 response of over 70 officers, a dynamic entry into a home, and terrifying a mother and her two sons. The prankster got points for just about everything but the helicopter.
This is not a game, at least not a game in the same way that Russian Roulette is not a game. People can die in this game. So far, I can’t find an instance where someone has, but the potential for things going seriously wrong is huge. Consider the kid who answered the police knocking on his door with his game controller who ended up shot and killed. In this case the police officer who did the shooting is under a grand jury ordered investigation.
Frankly it seems to me that the problem is as much with the police policies as it is with the prankster asshats that call in the swatting. Specifically how they handle these hostage situations. Keep in mind how these work, the asshat calls the police claiming murder and hostages at a specific address. He clearly WANTS the police attention. From the police point of view, they arrive on scene and they have a couple of options. One shouldn’t be to kick in the door.
The first thing that I would expect the police to do is attempt to make contact inside the house. Talk with the neighbors, did they hear gunshots? Do they have a land line phone you can call? Do neighbors know their cell phone number? Does the house look like it’s barricaded and ready for a police response? Does the house look like the homeowners are blissfully unaware of the growing army outside? Then perhaps it’s time to make peaceful, respectful contact. If there is no land line and no cell numbers found, do a ding dong ditch and leave a cellphone and a sign on the front porch and see if the door is opened and the phone is picked up. In other words, make peaceful contact first.
That’s not really as radical as you think, and it has worked. A swatting event in Huntsville, Alabama turned out just that way. As the police infiltrated the area, they quickly realized things were not as they seemed, and managed to put no one at risk, including themselves. Because no-knock entry into a home is a dangerous thing for police to do. The people inside have the constitutional right to fight back when an unknown force bursts through their front door. And police SWAT teams will not respond kindly to being shot at.
The truth is that SWAT raids are a dangerous business, even when the SWAT is the correct use of force. But lately, SWAT has been used to deliver more warrants than ever. Even knock and announce warrants. And that puts the public at danger. Since 1981, use of SWAT style raids have exploded, and is partially to blame for the fact that police have killed more American’s than terrorists since 9/11. It’s all tied up with the further militarization of police.
A part of that militarization and why SWAT raids have become so dangerous is what a blogger known as ExCopLawStudent has written about extensively known as the first rule of policing. Basically, the first rule of policing is “Go home alive.” As a result of this rule, Officer Safety is the number one excuse for any use of force, however outlandish. A subset of this rule is the level of respect generated. There was a time when the police actively worked hard to gain the respect and trust of the community they served. Sadly, that is rarely the case today. Instead, the respect (at least in the mind of the police) is generated because they have the badge. As a result, they expect us to give them respect from the outset of an encounter, be that a traffic stop, a public arrest or a SWAT raid.
Personally, I do. Not because they earned it. And not because it’s the “right thing to do.” But because, on the street, like it or not, thanks to the first rule of policing, they have all the power. I’m respectful and kind. I do what they tell me. I’m not stupid. I raise my rights, I don’t answer questions and I refuse to consent to searches, but I don’t argue. Because on the streets is not the place to plead your case. Police are the brute force of the Government, militarized or not. The place to plead your case, correct the wrongs (if any) done to you at the hands of the police, are in the courts. Although that is a whole other bag of trouble.
But overall, I can’t help to think that if police went into every encounter not with the concept of shock and awe, but with the concept of de-escalation the system would be far safer for everyone. Wouldn’t it be nice if reducing crime AND reducing arrests was the stated goal. And if police action and use of force is determined by the best result for everybody and not just the police. Then, maybe just, there wouldn’t be federal investigations into police brutality.