FRANKFORT, KY. (LEX 18) — A “prank” known as swatting can cause dangerous and sometimes deadly situations for victims and law enforcement, and there’s now an active push in Frankfort to make it a felony.
Swatting is when a person makes a fake call to emergency services and reports a crime, sometimes a murder or a hostage situation, at an unsuspecting person’s house. And when police arrive at the victim’s house, the victim is often caught off guard and confused. It can cause a tense and unpredictable situation that can be fatal.
In Frankfort on Thursday, a proposed bill was discussed and pre-filed that would make swatting a felony. The bill, which is still being drafted, calls for swatting to be class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison. A swatting incident where a person is injured or killed could be a class C felony, punishable by five to ten years in prison, if the bill becomes law.
Among the evidence shown to bolster the argument for the bill was an LEX 18 Investigates story from April about a Scott County couple whose home was surrounded by sheriff’s deputies after a swatting incident.
Most of the lawmakers in the meeting had no idea what swatting is until they watched the story and heard the victims themselves tell about just how scary and dangerous the "prank" is.
The lawmaker now pushing for the change, State Representative Phillip Pratt of the 62nd district, was also moved by the LEX 18 story. When he discussed his intention in April to introduce the bill, he cited the news story as opening his eyes to the issue.
“This couple absolutely sold it, how they told their story and what happened to them, how they were reluctant to come out and how the sheriff's department was able to diffuse a tense situation basically sold the whole story for me,” Pratt said Thursday.
Most of the lawmakers at Thursday's hearing were supportive of the bill, but some still had questions.
"My problem is ... (this) section says if there's a physical injury it becomes a class C felony," Sen. Johnnie Turner of the 29th district said. "So a firefighter shuts a door on his finger, that's a physical injury, we're going to put someone in pen for 5 to 10 years for that injury."
In the Scott County case, deputies were able to de-escalate the situation by first going to a neighbor’s house and making a call to the couple’s house. The couple praised the move and said that it prevented the situation from getting worse. But not all cases end up that way.
In Wichita, a 2017 swatting incident ended in police shooting and killing an unarmed man in the doorway of his home. A man was sentenced to 20 years in prison on federal charges after he admitted to making the hoax 9-1-1 call that brought police to the victim’s door, as well as a number of other swatting calls, according to NBC News.
The FBI first publicly warned of “swatting” in 2008, and while the agency doesn't track swatting incidents it estimates there are hundreds reported nationwide annually. However, since the incidents aren’t tracked it’s hard to know how accurate that estimate is, FBI spokesman Tim Beam said.