It was probably only a matter of time before this ugly and dangerous “prank” came to Wisconsin.
The state recorded what’s believed to be its first encounter with “swatting” this month in Dodge County near Beaver Dam when a man called 911 and said he had shot a man and had taken hostages in a house off Highway 151.
That, of course, triggered a full response from the Dodge County Sheriff’s office — a SWAT team was sent to the house, Highway 151 was shut down for an hour and law enforcement sent additional resources to the area.
SWAT contacted the owner of the home, who came out. “It was quickly confirmed there was no shooting and no hostages were taken,” Sheriff Dale Schmidt said.
It was a fake call.
Dodge County was fortunate. So was the targeted homeowner.
Last December, a homeowner in Wichita, Kan., was not so lucky.
Police there responded to a similarly bogus call in which a caller said he had killed his father, was holding his mother and brother hostage at gunpoint, had spread gasoline in the home and was thinking of setting it on fire.
That, too, triggered a SWAT response.
When the occupant came to the door, police told him to raise his hands — which he did. But, when he started to lower them, a Wichita officer, apparently thinking the man was going for a gun, shot once and killed him.
That bad outcome has riled the state of Kansas; triggered a lawsuit; sparked legislation to make false calls that result in death a felony comparable to second-degree murder; and resulted in the arrest of a Los Angeles man who allegedly made the bogus 911 call from a library.
That is indeed a horror story.
It is not the only one out there. This month, a swatting call targeted a Northwestern University law student and her boyfriend in Evanston, Ill., with the caller telling police he was the woman’s boyfriend and had shot her.
That, too, brought the response of a SWAT team and a 2-hour shutdown of a Northwestern campus dorm before law enforcement located the couple and determined it was a hoax.
That fake call came in on a scrambled device, reportedly from Rockford, Ill.
No arrests have been made yet in the Beaver Dam hoax call, but a clearly aggravated Sheriff Schmidt has asked the state Division of Criminal Investigation to help out and is hoping to “get this person brought to justice quickly.”
“To that person who did this, we are coming,” Schmidt said.
The sheriff pointed out that in fake SWAT calls, the risk is not only to the owner or occupant of a house — it extends to others, because it ties up law enforcement resources. Shortly after the Dodge County fake hostage call, authorities had to respond to an emergency call on Fox Lake when three men went through the thin ice. Fortunately, the men were not hurt.
“Had our deputies still been tied up on the swatting call, it is quite possible our deputies would not have been able to respond as quickly to that incident, and lives could have been put further in jeopardy,” Schmdit said.
We agree. We hope the sheriff and the state track the caller down and prosecute to the full extent of the law.
Swatting is not a prank. It is a malicious action that endangers lives.
We would urge Wisconsin lawmakers to help drive that point home and consider taking a page from Kansas’ playbook by beefing up the penalties for such evil phone calls.