Swatting Update

Turns out, I wasn’t the target.  At least according to the detective who came to see me tonight at work.  It looks like it was my 11 year old gamer son, who humiliated some poor sucker in Tennessee on MineCraft.  I don’t even know what MineCraft is, but it seems that people, or at least kids, take it seriously enough that this kid who is 17 decided revenge on an 11 year old was a good idea.

Detective was clear that charges are iffy at best.  They talked with his folks, and with him, and while the detective thinks they got their guy, and I have to admit that the screen capture he showed me it looks like they do, with the juvi nature and a out of state suspect, they aren’t sure they have enough to charge him.  However, I understand that he got quite the scare, and will be cleaning bathrooms for quite a while.  Later, his dad called me and apologized.  Again, I’m just glad no one got hurt.

So earlier it was all “we may never know.”  Now it’s “we know, but may not be able to do anything.”  That’s okay, his dad is pissed.  I don’t wanna be in the kids shoes anyway.

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Swatting…

UPDATE: The latest information can be found here.

First, I shouldn’t have posted my comment on Hogewash! I was angry and frustrated and tired.

Second, yes someone tried to swat me last night. It failed. Back when Bill was threatening to call the cops for harassment and Ghost was sending his mysterious missive, I got nervous and called a riding buddy who is a cop. He understood my fears and put a flag on my address and phone number that he was to be called by dispatch 24/7 if an emergency came in on my address.

When the call came in last night, the flag came up and while the dispatcher talked to the teletype operator, her supervisor talked to my friend. He called me, and I told him I was out of state and no one was home. He asked if he could verify it, and I gave him permission to track my phone for the night.

They dutifully took the 911 callers info, and a patrol car drove by, I’m told. They drove by often in case the swatter was local and watching. Within minutes of me getting home, a cop came by and checked on me. He’s a third shift regular that all the local bar employees know. He’s the one we call when someone suspicious is in the parking lot as we close.

Turns out the dispatcher had doubts from the get go. I had an issue a while back where I was jumped in the parking lot of the bar I worked at. The dispatcher had that report, and there was nothing in the report about me being deaf, so the dispatcher doubted the caller using the deaf translation system was really me. There were a lot of red flags even without my prior warning.

The timing seems odd, the night after I called someone out for harassing me on twitter, but really as a security guy for several bars, it could have been unrelated to my blogging. And yes, I’m being vague. The investigation continues.

SWATING as more than revenge or a game.

In my last (public) post, I talked a bit about SWATing, mostly as a game and mostly from how I think police should handle it.  In case you don’t know about it, SWATing is the term used to describe when someone fakes a call to the police claiming a person has just killed someone and has at least one more hostage.  Police response is usually swift and in force.  It is a very dangerous thing to do, since it involves the police, with guns drawn, forcing their way into a home.  Many things could go wrong, since the person who is living in that home has no idea what is happening.  He may think someone is breaking in, he may shoot these people breaking in.  Which would cause an armed retaliation.  People could get killed.

In that previous post, which was mostly about how hackers and gamers use it for revenge on people who best them at hacking or gaming.  I’ve since learned that it is more common as something much worse.  Willful harassment and an honest attempt to get someone killed.  It is attempted murder with the cops as the weapon of choice.

Don’t believe me?  Ask blogger Patterico about it.  He was SWATed in 2011.  And it wasn’t simple revenge, it was part of a pattern of outright harassment filled with other harassing behavior.  Feel free to check in on blogger Aaron Worthing too.  He was also SWATed, quite possibly by the same harasser. But it isn’t just bloggers that get SWATed, P Diddy Combs, Rhianna, Chris Brown and so many celebrities that the LAPD will no longer publicize the incidents.

Side note:  SWATers with a death wish even tried to pull it on Dirty Harry star Clint Eastwood.  It failed spectacularly.  

Patterico, who is about as close as a blogger can get to being an expert on SWATing reported (in the same link as above) that SWATing is often part of a larger harassment campaign. Here’s what he had to say:

I met personally with the nationwide experts on swatting in December 2011: the FBI office in Dallas, Texas. They told me that swatting is an extreme form of harassment — and that swatters typically combine swatting with other forms of harassment, including: complaining to the victim’s workplace, defaming the victim online, “Googlebombing” the victim, publishing the victim’s address online, filing phony reports of criminal activity by the victim, and so forth.

Side note: I prefer the term SWATing and SWATers.  I’m weird that way.  Most people do refer to it as swatting, like Patterico does.

Don’t think this could happen to you?  Think again.  SWATing is surprisingly easy to do and hard for Police to make arrests.  Not that arrests don’t happen, just that they are rare.  They have also happened in small towns and big cities alike.  And despite the FBI’s claim to take SWATing seriously, the number of arrests… or even investigations… of SWATers is miniscule.

Again, I have to return to Patterico.  In his case, the blogger actually hired a forensic voice identification expert who, in a report, claims to have identified the original caller.  That information was presented to the FBI, but no arrest has been made.

Who is the real victim of SWATing?  Clearly the person who had the SWAT call made against them.  While no one has yet reportedly died as a result of a SWATing, the possibility is very real.  According to the FBI information on SWATing I linked to earlier, SWATing has caused victims to have mild heart attacks.  Medical issues aside, it is only a matter of time before a SWATing kills a victim because the victim responded to the event with perceived violence toward the police.

But the targets aren’t the only victims, I’d argue the police are victims as well. In that same FBI report, it is known that at least one officer was injured in a car crash while responding to the SWATing.  I’ve personally talked to an officer who was emotionally traumatized by the fact that he was part of a SWATing into the home of a family of five.  I’d argue that the police did everything a correctly and calmly as possible, but the looks on the young children who lived in the home still haunt this Officer.  He recently told me:

I see their faces every night.  This was a good family with a loving mother and father.  The kids were good kids.  And now, they are afraid of the police.  They are afraid of me.  I can’t fix that.  And I’m afraid of what that fear may grow into.

Not only are police victimized through there own mental and physical health, the department that responds may end up spending thousands of dollars and countless man-hours on the situation.

And that brings us to the last of the victims.  You and me.  Even if we aren’t ever the target of a SWATing, when anyone in our hometown gets SWATed, we end up paying for it out of our pocketbooks.  A recent SWATing in Long Island is estimated to have cost as much as $100,000.

A Solution To Swatting That’s Safe For Everyone

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.