Swatting becomes an increasingly popular prank

Daniel McGuire,
Staff Writer

First death related to phenomenon recorded in December

In 2016, popular video game streaming website Twitch had a total of 292 billion minutes of footage watched and over 2.2 million streamers. Some of these streamers have become the victims of a prank referred to as swatting.

Swatting is the false reporting of a serious issue, such as a hostage situation or bomb threat, with the intent of having armed law enforcement arrive at a specific location. This is most commonly seen in the video game streaming community and celebrities such as Lil Wayne, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber have been victims, according to a Dec. 17 article by Time Magazine.

According to Michelle Rippy, professor of criminal justice at Cal State East Bay, swatting “started to happen in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s and has become popularized when it has been done to celebrities and hitting main news channels,” Rippy said.

“In California, it’s a misdemeanor to report a knowingly false crime and there has been legislature, believed to be Senate Bill 333, that added a penalty of $10,000 and felony status when the false report is likely to cause great bodily injury or death.”

On Dec. 29, 2017, Los Angeles resident Tyler Barriss was arrested for placing a call about a false hostage situation that led to the shooting death of 28-year-old Kansas resident, Andrew Finch, according to The Washington Post.

The incident in Kansas is the first death caused by swatting.

On Dec. 27, 2017, in Hercules, the police were sent to a house after a call was received that claimed the person heard screams and gunshots while they hid in their closet, according to Hercules Police public information officer, Connie Van Putten.

Van Putten told The Pioneer the officers who responded to the call ordered everyone to come outside via a loudspeaker. They handcuffed the two adult males and interviewed them and the others. They searched the house and confirmed there was no hostage situation and released all those involved.

Swatting is much less frequent in the Bay Area. Sergeant John Racette, Hayward Police Department public information officer told The Pioneer there have been no swatting incidents in Hayward Police’s jurisdiction in their 20 plus years of service.

However, a swatting attempt was made in Castro Valley on Jan. 4. Alameda County Sheriff Sergeant Ray Kelly told The Pioneer the caller stated there were three hostages that would be killed unless paramedics brought $15,000 to the address.

Similar calls were made in the past from the same address, so officers used a low-risk strategy to confirm the address was safe, according to Kelly.