Swatting is an online harassment tactic of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police and 911 emergency service response team to another person’s address. This is triggered by false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation, or other alleged incident.
The term derives from the law enforcement unit “SWAT” (Special Weapons and Tactics), a specialized type of police unit in the United States and many other countries carrying military-style equipment such as door breaching weapons, submachine guns, and automatic rifles. A threat may result in the evacuations of schools and businesses. Swatting is described as terrorism due to its potential to cause disruption, wasting resources and time of emergency services. It causes money and tax dollars to be wasted by the city or county when responding to a false report of a serious law enforcement emergency.
Making false reports to emergency services is a criminal offense in many countries, punishable by fines and imprisonment. In California, swatters bear the “full cost” of the response which can range up to $10,000.
Swatting has origins in prank calls to emergency services. Over the years, callers used increasingly sophisticated techniques to direct response units of particular types. In particular, attempts to have SWAT teams be dispatched to particular locations spawned the term ‘swatting’. The term was used by the FBI as early as 2008, and has also entered into Oxford Dictionaries Online in 2015.
On January 15, 2015, in Sentinel, Oklahoma, Washita County, dispatchers received 911 calls from someone who identified himself as Dallas Horton and told dispatchers he had placed a bomb in a local preschool. Washita County Sheriff’s Deputies and Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross made forced entry into Horton’s residence. Ross, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was shot several times by Horton. Further investigation revealed that the calls did not originate from the home and led Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents to believe Horton was unaware that it was law enforcement officers making entry. James Edward Holly confessed to investigators that he made the calls with two “nonfunctioning” phones because he was angry with Horton. Ross, who was shot multiple times in the chest and arm, was injured, but was treated for his injuries and released from a local hospital.
On December 28, 2017, Wichita police officers killed a man named Andrew Finch at his Kansas home in a reported swatting prank. Based on a series of screenshotted Twitter posts, the Wichita Eagle suggests that Finch was the unintended victim of the prank after two Call of Duty players on the same team got into a heated argument about a USD 1.50 bet. On December 29, 2017, LAPD Arrested 25-year-old serial-swatter Tyler Raj Barriss, known online as “SWAuTistic” and “GoredTutor36,” in connection with the incident.