Make ‘swatting’ a felony offense

‘Swatting’ has to be one of the stupidest, most dangerous pranks modern ne’er-do-wells have come up with. It involves calling police and reporting a dangeous crime is going on at someone’s address, in hopes that police will turn out in full force, SWAT team and all, bust down the doors and roust the innocent victims of the prank. It seems to have started with some online gamers.

The dangers of this kind of prank are enormous. A Wichita, Kansas man was shot by police when a man in California called police to report he had shot his father and was holding his mother and sister hostage. The prankster had apparently sent police to a different address than his intended victim’s. The man who was shot was totally uninvolved.

Late last Saturday, a couple in Minnetonka were victims of a swatting call. Someone called police posing as a man who had shot his wife and was holed up with an AR-15 rifle, adding that he wanted to shoot police as well.

While the couple slept, two dozen police officers from six agencies surrounded their house and set up a command post. Fortunately, instead of storming the house police called first, talked to the couple, had them come out and realized they had been swatted. The couple, in their 60s, had no idea what swatting was, or why someone would target them.

One would think there would be heavy penalties for this kind of activity, but unless someone does get killed, it’s a misdemeanor in most states — making a false report to police or creating a disturbance. There should be more.

Swatting is a crime that is easily done across state lines, so it should be a federal offense, and the penalty should be severe. Congress should pass a bill making this a felony, and letting the FBI go after those who think this is some kind of fun prank.