False shooting report may be part of a dangerous trend

November 30, 2011

Colorado Springs police raced to a home Wednesday where they were told there was a woman hiding in the closet, her husband was shot and the two robbers — possibly armed with machine guns — had run away.

When officers arrived, they found out the Broadmoor Bluffs home didn’t exist. The person who supposedly called for help was nowhere to be found. He or she might not even be in the state.

Police believe they were victims of a disturbing trend called “swatting” — when people use electronic technology to falsely report a crime in hopes that the police SWAT team will force their way into someone’s house.

On Wednesday, the crime was reported about 11:15 a.m. at 640 Wycliffe Drive — an address that doesn’t exist, according to the El Paso County Assessor’s Office records, although the address will show up on Internet maps.

The caller identified herself as Diane Dick and was calling through a relay telephone service used by the deaf to type telephone messages, which are then forwarded through an operator. She told police dispatchers that she was hiding in a closet and typing from her laptop. Her husband, she told police, was in a downstairs room and there was “blood all over the place,” said Barbara Miller, a police spokeswoman.

Officers were at the address in four minutes and an ambulance crew was also called. In all, eight officers were there going door-to-door trying to find the couple, Miller said. They were tied up for about half an hour while they tried to figure out the validity of the call.

“This was a waste of valuable resources,” Miller said. “You’ve got people responding to an emergency situation when there could be an emergency somewhere else … Potentially it could have been very dangerous.”

She said police are investigating who made the fake call.

Sgt. Phillip LeBeau, who was at the scene Wednesday, said he had not heard of someone swatting in Colorado Springs before but has heard of other cases around the nation.

According to the FBI, the practice has been going on for years. In most cases, the technologically adept use the relay service as well as what the FBI calls “spoofing technology” to make authorities believe the call came from that address.

The results have been scary and dangerous for the people in the homes.

The FBI cites a 2007 case where someone had called California authorities and falsely reported that he had just shot and murdered someone inside. Authorities surrounded the house and the man who lived there heard the commotion and grabbed a knife as he headed outside to investigate. SWAT officers were waiting for him with their guns drawn. Fortunately, no one was injured. A man from Washington state was later arrested.

When caught, the “swatters” can face severe punishment. In 2009,a blind 19-year-old man from Boston was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison after authorities say he was involved in a swatting gang and then tried to intimidate the man who was investigating him.

LeBeau said that he’s heard of other cases where criminals have used swatting to get police to focus their resources on one side of town while they attempt to commit a crime in another. He said he’s worried about the practice.

“The potential for problems could be really large,” he said.

Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274

Twitter @mariastlous

Facebook Gazette Maria St. Louis-Sanchez


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