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Schumer calls on feds to crack down on swatting — again

Sen. Charles Schumer, speaking at Brockport High School, pledges $10 million to help the FBI investigate and track "swatting" incidents.
David Andreatta
/
WXXI News
Sen. Charles Schumer, speaking at Brockport High School, pledges $10 million to help the FBI investigate and track "swatting" incidents.

A week after police responded to hundreds of schools across the country for what turned out to be bogus reports of active shooters, Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday called on federal law enforcement to crack down on these so-called “swatting” incidents.

Speaking at Brockport High School, which was swatted on March 30, the Senate majority leader called the wave of incidents “unprecedented” and described a plan to empower law enforcement to take action.

Schumer said he had bipartisan support to earmark $10 million in the upcoming federal budget to support FBI efforts to investigate swatting attacks, and he called on the agency to track the incidents.

“They don’t do it now,” Schumer said. “When you can track a crime, you can find out what’s happened. How many were from overseas? How many occurred here? How many used this language? How many used that language? Maybe this is one person. Maybe it’s a whole lot of people. We just don’t know yet.”

The FBI does investigate swatting incidents, but the agency does not keep statistics on them because, as an agency spokesperson explained, the bogus calls often go through local 911 systems and they are not always reported to federal authorities.

“We do believe there are hundreds of them every year, but we can’t put out an accurate total,” said the spokesperson, Jeannie McBride.

Swatting, which involves anonymously reporting a fake emergency to police to prompt a large-scale response, like one from a SWAT team, isn’t new.

Neither are Schumer’s calls to combat it.

In 2015, Schumer introduced a bill that would have imprisoned convicted swatters for up to eight years and made them pay up to $10,000 in restitution to the police departments who expended resources responding to the phony calls for help.

“Tell those who might think of doing this that this is not a joke,” Schumer said at the time. “That you can face serious time from the federal law enforcement authorities who have the toughest laws on the books.”

That bill died in committee.

Two years later, after Jewish community centers across upstate New York were evacuated because of fake bomb threats, Schumer called on the Federal Communications Commission to grant a waiver to allow the centers to trace the phone numbers that were used to make the phony calls. The FCC made the allowance and at least one suspect was arrested.

Law enforcement has been responding to swatting incidents since the mid-2000s. Politicians, celebrities, activists, and social media influencers have been swatted.

But the scenarios are touching the lives of everyday people — students, parents, school workers — more often and in more serious ways.

Last week, for instance, 226 schools across New York were swatted on the same day, according to a count provided by Schumer’s office.

Brockport High School went into lockdown, and students were ordered to “hold in place” while police conducted a search of the building. Police found nothing but beefed up its presence at the school for the next two days out of what the school district called “an abundance of caution.”

Speaking alongside Schumer, Brockport Superintendent Sean Bruno described the toll the swatting incident took on the community.

“One single phone call causes trauma to 1,200 people in this building and thousands outside of this building,” Bruno said.

David Andreatta is investigations editor. He joined the WXXI family in 2019 after 11 years with the Democrat and Chronicle, where he was a news columnist and investigative reporter known for covering a range of topics, from the deadly serious to the cheeky.