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In early August, police responded to a fraudulent report of a shooting on the 800 block of Boyd Street. This phenomenon is called swatting. Craig Fox/Watertown Daily Times

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.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(4) comments

rdsouth

Maybe they shouldn't respond with SWAT tactics until they've called back the caller and verified they know who is calling and from where. That would assist with busting these miscreants.

Holmes -- the real one

Disturbingly, it seems that all kinds of harassment are on the rise in some of the small towns surrounding Watertown.

In one town, a local "businessperson" has taken to intentionally blocking a Chinese restaurant's dumpster pickup.

Another self-proclaimed 'community supporter' has single handedly discouraged a number of farmers from participation in the local farmer's market.

Shockingly, in this same small town, I have heard so-called "Christian" people claim that "love your neighbor" just "doesn't apply to outsiders."

What is emboldening this kind of thing?

We have recently learned of a horrific acid-throwing hate crime in Milwaukee. Just how far will this hate speech and these hate crimes go? How long will it be before we see reporting of a similar event here in the North Country?

These are small town bullies and not surprisingly, the people described above are supporters of the racist bully in the White House.

rdsouth

Never mind the bestial treatment of peoples by other peoples, within nations and communities people have always treated each other this way. The rarity is those times and places when it wasn't like this. Dirty tricks are the human condition.

Holmes -- the real one

rdsouth -- I have to admit that I'm confused by this sentiment.

I have heard variations on this view over the years -- pretty much summed up as, 'it's always been that way, in some times and places it was/is worse, that's just how humans are, just ignore it and go about your life.'

My problem is:

I very much care about the bestial treatment of peoples by other peoples.

I care about wrongdoing and I care about victims.

I even care about the perpetrators of such acts and I care about addressing what could prompt a person or a peoples to behave in such a manner.

As to the "treated each other" part, this sort of behavior does not originate in a bothsider type scenario. Generally this kind of thing begins with someone exercising power and provocation upon another for his/her/their own reasons and then, at least in some cases, the victimized one retaliates.

Saying that it has always been this way seems to me to be another way of saying that there's nothing to do or nothing worth doing about it and I disagree.

Parents have abused and/or neglected their children. Thieves have stolen. People have been cruel to animals. The list of bad things that have gone on is no doubt endless. Within our lifetime we have seen whole groups commit genocide against another group.

Well, we are seeing a rise in these kinds of acts in our own little patch of turf. As the editorial points out, it is no joke. Here, some video game player somewhere on the planet harassing another here in Watertown has not only indulged a revenge fantasy, that person also, by falsely summoning public safety workers, even has managed to evoke a potential scenario that haunts us all -- that of having rescue workers being summoned and then themselves being victimized by terrorists. Luckily that did not happen here -- but it could have happened and I'm sure those public safety employees are well aware of that every time they come out to virtually any scene.

So legislators are looking to "make a law' and one that is apparently needed. But how do we get ahead of such bullying and provocative behavior?

I think that the way we do so is to confront it and stop it in its tracks whenever and wherever we see it. That's what communities do.

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