Date: August 26, 2019
“SWAT teams, in full military protective gear and armed with assault rifles, are being deployed against innocent, unsuspecting citizens all over the United States. Ten days ago, it was Kyle Giersdorf, alias Bugha, a 16-year-old Twitch streamer and reigning Fortnite champion, in Upper Pottsgrove Township, Pennsylvania. Giersdorf was unhurt—in part because an officer recognized him from around town and defused the situation. Last Wednesday, it was Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, in King County, Washington. Her son was home alone, sleeping. Last weekend, it was a resident of Lancaster, Ohio, who had not shot his girlfriend or taken children hostage. This Monday, it was somebody in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after a 911 caller wrongly reported a shooting and possible homicide at their address.
All of these people are the latest victims of an internet-age crime called swatting, in which bad actors sic the police on a fellow internet user who has angered, offended, or simply annoyed them.
It’s one of the worst “pranks” imaginable, with sometimes deadly consequences. It started as a niche crime, seldom seen or discussed outside of the gaming community. Swatting battering-rammed its way into the national conversation two years ago, after LA-based gamer Tyler Bariss, peeved over a Call of Duty dispute, attempted to send the police to another player’s door in Wichita, Kansas. Instead, he sent them to the home of total stranger Andrew Finch, who was fatally shot in the confusion. Even now, few officials seem to have any idea what to do about swatting.
One exception: Seattle. As of last October, the Seattle Police Department has maintained an anti-swatting registry that lets people who fear being swatted give the police advance warning by adding the concern to a profile associated with their address—in much the same way you might add a note about a serious allergy, a child with autism, or pets in the house in case of fire. If an officer is dispatched to your address, they’ll see your profile and proceed with appropriate caution. According to Sean Whitcomb, the registry’s inventor and a sergeant at the police department, it was a fast and easy fix.”
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