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Schumer urges funding for FBI to investigate swatting

Patrick Semansky
/
AP

Senate Major Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is calling for the FBI to investigate bomb scares, fake mass shootings and other hoax threats, known as “swatting.” The threats put authorities on high alert to a fake emergency, which elicits a police response and locks down schools.

On the morning of Thursday, March 30, police responded to more than 220 schools across New York, including on Long Island. Schools in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Ohio were also attacked. Last October, Connecticut was the target.

Schumer said it’s a waste of law enforcement resources to chase down a hoax.

“This is traumatizing, traumatizing,” Schumer said during a visit to Jericho School District on Long Island Thursday. “It’s traumatizing for our students, for our teachers, for the parents and for everyone else.”

Earlier this week, over 50 school districts across the state received “swatting threats.” Schumer said East Hampton schools received mass emails on April 3 that were “‘threatening’ and worded similarly to recent messages sent to school districts around the state.” Town police dismissed the threats made to Springs, Amagansett and Wainscott schools as not credible “‘and part of a robo email scheme.’”

“Although the Jericho School District has not received any hoax 911 calls, the disruption, fear and anxiety caused by such acts significantly upset the trusted learning environment of our schools,” School Superintendent Hank Grishman said in a statement. “Schools should be the safe spaces where students, staff and parents must feel secure and protected. Every governmental agency, local, state and federal, must work to ensure that full attention is paid to this endeavor.”

Schumer wants $10 million in federal funds to help the FBI investigate these cyber crimes and create a database for tracking swatting.

Under the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act approved last year, $1 billion over five years is available for schools to improve mental health services and hire counseling staff through two grant programs.

Several Long Island school districts have boosted security in recent months, including hiring armed guards, in part due to real violence, but also because of increased bomb scares and other threats.

Governor Kathy Hochul has also directed the New York State Police to investigate.

State Senator Dean Murray (R-Patchogue) has introduced legislation to make the crime of “swatting” carry up to 4 years in state prison, if convicted.

“Let me be clear, 'Swatting' is not funny and it's not cool,” Murray said in a statement. “It is dangerous and illegal.”

Law enforcement officials agree. “Faking threats to a school, religious institution or any public place is not a laughing matter,” said Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. “These ‘swatting’ incidents are growing more and more common, and they waste public safety resources and misdirect law enforcement personnel that could be saving lives.”

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.