Four bills rolled out in PA to combat swatting epidemic

22 February 2024- Working to provide law enforcement officials with more tools in their arsenal to prosecute individuals on charges related to “swatting,” a dangerous act where a person places a hoax 911 alleging a hostage situation or other serious threat, a group of House Republicans announced they’ll introduce a series of bills.

There has been an uptick in instances of swatting in recent years, including an incident earlier this month at a York County Walmart where a caller falsely claimed someone had been shot, hostages were taken and bombs had been placed in the store. Not knowing swatting calls are hoaxes, law enforcement officers must take them seriously and often respond with a large police presence, including crisis response teams, or SWAT teams, hence the term swatting.

Knowing the potential for serious or deadly consequences, the great cost to respond to false alarms and taking police officers away from real work, Reps. Ryan Mackenzie (R-Lehigh), Craig Williams (R-Delaware/Chester), Dawn Keefer (R-York) and Jim Rigby (R-Cambria/Somerset) will introduce legislation to assure those engaging in false reports are held accountable. 

Mackenzie’s bill would criminalize swatting and make it a felony offense if any person suffers bodily injury in the course of responding to a call.  

“The very nature of these swatting incidents creates the high risk that violence will occur and someone answering the emergency call may get hurt,” said Mackenzie. “My bill would ensure significant criminal penalties are in place to serve as a deterrent to anyone thinking about taking part in this malicious and dangerous conduct.” 

Williams’ legislation would give a victim of swatting an avenue to hold the person who committed the act accountable for any damages stemming from the false report.  

“Swatting inflicts serious damage on individuals and property. My legislation grants victims the right to sue individuals making false reports. It allows for the recovery of damages from these malicious acts, ensuring victims access restitution directly from those responsible.”

Since swatting calls amount to a false alarm that takes valuable police officers off the streets, Keefer will introduce a bill to allow courts to order a person who engaged in swatting to pay the costs associated with the state or municipality responding to a swatting call. These costs would include wages or other compensation of any responder for time spent responding, for prosecuting the offender and for costs of supplies and equipment used in responding to the swatting call.

“The blue line is already stretched thin enough and we cannot afford to have police officers chasing phantom calls and exhausting valuable resources at the taxpayers’ expense,” Keefer said. “My bill would hold those who make these malicious hoax calls financially liable.”

Officers respond to swatting calls under the belief lives are in danger and swift action is necessary to end the threat. Rigby’s legislation would grant civil immunity to officers who respond to a swatting call.  

“As a former police chief, I’ve been on calls of this nature and seen law enforcement in action,” Rigby added. “These ‘swatters’ are toying with officers’ passion to answer the call and wasting time and money in search of a cheap thrill that actually isn’t cheap, as well as potentially putting lives at risk.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: To view the co-sponsor memo for the bills, click here.