Humans often take disturbing pleasure at finding new ways to harass one another.
A phenomenon that has become more popular over the past few years is known as swatting. This involves someone calling public safety dispatchers and making an erroneous claim of an emergency at a particular residence.
Members of Joe Soluri’s family, who live in Watertown, have been victimized by such incidents more than a dozen times since the summer. Someone from another country grew mad at being beaten by Mr. Soluri’s grandson while playing the online video game “Minecraft.” So this individual has repeatedly called the Watertown Police Department to report various incidents — all of which have turned out to be false.
This is dangerous behavior, and it’s resulted in tragedies in different parts of the country. A year ago, a man named Tyler Barriss from Los Angeles pleaded guilty to making numerous prank calls and was sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in prison. A fraudulent call he made left 28-year-old Andrew Finch of Witchita, Kan., dead after he was shot by a police officer.
State Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and state Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, are promoting a bill to increase the penalty for swatting. If signed into law, the legislation would revise this crime from being a misdemeanor to a Class E felony.
“I sat at the kitchen table of a family that has been victimized by swatting. The stress, emotion and frustration [are] real, and nobody should have to endure the trauma that comes with the police knocking at their door for an incident that was falsely reported,” Mr. Walczyk said in a news release issued Friday by his office. “This bill makes swatting a Class E felony, and it’s certainly my hope that someone will think twice before picking up the phone and reporting something that isn’t true. Swatting wastes time and resources and brings unnecessary risk to victims and law enforcement.”
“Swatting is not a prank. It is a crime with real-life consequences that disregards the safety of our communities, police officers and other emergency personnel,” Mrs. Ritchie was quoted as saying in the news release. “I am hopeful that by increasing the penalties on those who file these false reports, we will provide a deterrent that will reduce the number of instances, swatting, especially here in the north country.”
Jefferson County District Attorney Kristyna S. Mills, St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary M. Pasqua and Watertown Police Detective Lt. Joseph R. Donoghue all endorsed the bill and commended Mrs. Ritchie and Mr. Walczyk for their efforts to curb this perilous trend. Swatting distracts first-responders from legitimate emergencies, and we join those who are grateful that our legislators want to put some more teeth into the law to combat it.
Enforcement of any updated statute, however, will prove difficult. As seen with the incidents in Watertown, offenders may be from out of state or even from another country; they are beyond the reach of any New York law. Perhaps federal policymakers could work with their foreign counterparts to develop reciprocal agreements to combat swatting globally.
But nonetheless, Mrs. Ritchie and Mr. Walczyk have responded appropriately by seeking to impose stiffer criminal penalties upon New Yorkers who engage in this reckless behavior. We urge state legislators to pass their bill and send it to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature.