By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – State lawmakers are calling for a crackdown on “swatters” who are known to call 911 with fake emergencies, prompting SWAT teams to respond.
In Colorado, swatters can only be charged with misdemeanors. Only bomb threats are felonies.
Sen. John Cooke (R) Weld County suggests swatting is the modern-day bomb threat and should be charged as such.
He told a Senate committee about a swatting incident in Littleton to make his case. A gamer there was arrested as he was live streaming after police got a call of an active shooter at the location.
Schools and businesses were locked down for more than an hour before police realized it was a hoax.
Fortunately, no one was hurt in that case, but a swatting call in Kansas last month lead to a man being shot and killed.
“We need to take this type of crime seriously because right now it’s either a class 2 misdemeanor or a class 3 misdemeanor,” said Cooke.
He’s carrying a bill that would make it a felony for someone to knowingly make a false report that results in a SWAT callout.
“We want to make it clear if something happens to a Colorado resident, and they get killed because somebody makes a false report, we want to make it clear that, yes, you’re going to be held accountable for that death,” said Cooke.
But, attorneys like Gina Shimeall, who specializes in mental health cases, has concerns.
“There needs to be a more detailed carve-out so our people with mental illness are not swept into legislation and a crime that really does have merit, but should not be so wide that is taking in another part of the population that is mentally ill,” Shimeall said.
She worries people with hallucinations, for example, will call 911 believing there really is an emergency.
Tim Lane with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council says the bill already addresses those cases.
“The person has to know what they’re doing. They have to knowingly present that false report, and then they also have to reasonably know that an emergency response is going to happen,” Lane said.
The bill not only applies to swatting, but threats to open fire at schools or public buildings.
Anyone convicted would have to pay for the emergency response, including fire, police and ambulance. The bill passed its first committee.
The FBI estimates there are 400 cases of swatting nationwide every year.