Swatting May Become a Felony Offense in New York

July 18, 2023

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

When a false report of a crime is made, this can result in criminal charges against the reporting person. If a person makes a report intending to get a large police response while knowing no emergency exists, that’s called swatting. Due to increased incidents, some legislators want to make swatting a felony offense.


What is Swatting?

Swatting refers to when a person initiates an emergency response to a particular location, but in reality no emergency exists. In many cases, this occurs with a 911 call. The term comes from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), which is a specialized law enforcement team that responds to emergencies.

Usually, the people at the location are caught unaware as police officers burst into their homes. In some cases, the person who falls victim to swatting is a celebrity, targeted by a fan who is a total stranger.

In essence, swatting is a prank gone too far. Many times, it is young people who are unaware of the consequences of their actions. They don’t realize the time, money, and resources that go into a police response. It’s a scary event for the victims of the prank, who may be held at gunpoint by police. Sometimes, perpetrators don’t realize people could get hurt in these situations.


Examples of Swatting

A real-life incident occurred earlier this month in Orchard Park, just outside of Buffalo. In that case, two men were working at home doing repair work when they were approached by a police officer. The officer told them he was responding to a call of an elderly white male being tied up and kidnapped by four Black males. While this incident resolved peacefully, it could have ended up very differently.

Unfortunately, deaths have resulted as a result of swatting. In 2017, a man in Kansas named Andrew Finch was killed during such an incident. Police responded to a 911 call that alleged someone shot Andrew’s father and was holding the remaining family hostage with a gun. Andrew answered the door and cooperated, but when he dropped his hands a police officer fired, killing him. Tyler Barriss called in the fake threat after he had a falling out with Andrew playing Call of Duty. Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.


Swatting Charges in New York

In New York, calling a prank emergency can lead to criminal charges. However, this is usually charged as a misdemeanor, either as Falsely Reporting an Incident in the Third Degree or Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree. There are some circumstances when a felony can be charged, like if a person falsely reports about a fire, explosion, or hazardous substance.

Yet some are calling to make the offense a felony in all circumstances. In March of this year, more than 50 school districts in New York received phone threats, initiating a massive law enforcement response. In these cases, children were also kept in schools on lock down. Yet in the end, it all was a prank.

In response, a bill is pending to amend Falsely Reporting an Incident in the Second Degree, which is an E felony. If amended, the felony would include prank calls which are made “in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of police officers to a particular address or location.”




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