The practice of "swatting," or calling in fake threats to activate an aggressive police response to an unwitting home or business, has unfortunately lingered for the past few years. Starting this week, one police department in the United States is rolling out a system targeted directly at this illegal hoax practice.
On its official "swatting" resource site, the Seattle Police Department acknowledges how swatting works, along with the fact that citizens have requested a way to submit their own concerns or worries about being a potential victim. (Full disclosure: after having my own personally identifiable data distributed in a malicious manner, I asked SPD for this very thing… in 2015.)
"To our knowledge, no solution to this problem existed, so we engineered one," SPD's site reads. The site claims that swatting victims are "typically associated with the tech industry, video game industry, and/or the online broadcasting community."
SPD's process asks citizens to create a profile on a third-party data-management service called Rave Facility (run by the company Smart911). Though this service is advertised for public locations and businesses, it supports private residences as well, and SPD offers steps to input data and add a "swatting concerns" tab to your profile.
With that information in hand, SPD says that any police or 911 operator who receives a particularly troubling emergency report and matches it to a location that has already been flagged with a "swatting concerns" notice, will share that information "with first responders to inform and improve their police response to the incident."
"I want five grand or I'mma kill 'em all"
The information page doesn't clarify whether SPD has already instituted internal protocol changes with swatting in mind—particularly in how the department handles anonymous VOIP tips about hostage situations and ransom demands. But a linked video in SPD's instructions page, embedded below, appears to include footage of officers remaining vigilant about swatting possibilities.
The video begins with an apparent hostage-situation threat, given to a 911 operator, with a claim of five hostages taken and a ransom demand of "five grand or I'mma kill 'em all." This portion is followed by video footage of SPD officers, timestamped in the early hours of August 24 of this year, saying things like "an online phone app" and "sounds more and more like swatting to me" before approaching an apartment unit's entrance with guns drawn.
This portion of the video concludes with a calm conversation between the officers and the apartment's tenant explaining what kind of threat was phoned in. This is followed by an actor's portrayal of a concerned citizen typing their home address and "swatting concerns" text into Rave Facility's submission pages; the video concludes with this actor playing video games, hearing a knock at the door, and answering it, only to find that it's a pizza delivery, not a police officer with a gun drawn.
However, that "fill out a form, be left alone by cops" sequence is a bit misleading. The SPD notice page makes clear that "all calls" will still receive standard police response, whether or not any swatting concerns are filed. "Nothing about this solution is designed to minimize or slow emergency services," the site reads. "At the same time, if information is available, it is more useful for responding officers to have it than to not."
Seattle police representatives did not immediately respond to our questions about this new initiative.
In addition to a high-profile swatting attempt aimed at a Parkland-shooting survivor this past June, recent malicious attacks on tech and online personalities have evolved to some extent—or devolved, depending on how you look at it. Last month, popular gaming streamer DrDisRespect filed a police report alleging that his house had been shot at during his stream of the latest Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta test; this followed his abrupt closure of a stream as he claimed, "I've got to end the broadcast right now. Someone shot at our house."