By Tile Floor
I’ll never forget the night my SWATting cherry was popped. I was sitting in my Dodge Charger police car, lamenting the circumstances in my life that culminated in me being a police officer working midnights in an area of my county that I hate, when I received a call from dispatch. “298 copy a suspicious. Man called the desk, stating he was armed with an AK-47 and pipe bombs saying he was going to shoot his family and any police officers that respond.” Well, ain’t that just peachy, I thought to myself, as I slapped the car in drive and sputtered down the road in my V6 woefully-underpowered 4000 pound vehicle . . .
The area I work in the county is enormous, and due to the size and the way the road system works, anyone coming in area is looking at a 15 minute drive to the main little town, even running lights and sirens. Where we were going was even farther out, so even though we had about ten people coming to us, the three of us who work our little slice of heaven would be on our own.
My response time was about five minutes, hauling freight with no traffic on the road, driving as quickly as safety as the darkness would allow. During my drive I noticed a couple unusual things that dispatch was updating me with. The call came from a different number than was on file for anyone in the house. Odd. The fact that he called saying that he was going to shoot his family and blow us up was peculiar as well. Most legitimate calls involving a weapon are called in by a family member, victim, or witness.
No matter…I parked my car about 400 yards down from the house, and got my AR-15 out of the trunk as my buddy pulled up, realizing that we were completely alone with backup still five minutes out. Well, sucks to be us, we grumbled, as we headed towards the house in question. Contrary to many of my colleagues, my buddy’s and my number one priority is not going home at night. Our top goal is doing our damned jobs, and as cheesy as it sounds, to help those in need.
As we started to walk towards the residence, a supervisor on our shift got us on the radio. He also had felt something was off, and had looked around in our records management system until he was able to locate a cell phone number for the wife who was supposedly about to be executed. She had answered the phone completely bewildered, stating that her husband, the supposed assailant, was out bowling with his buddies in town, and that nothing was amiss at the house. The supervisor told her that officers would be at the house to make sure everything was OK, and to come out when they received a call from our dispatch.
After receiving this information I slid behind a BFT (big f*ckin’ tree) in their yard, and my buddy did the same. My rifle was at the indoor ready, pointed at the ground, but still in my hands. I had dispatch call inside and the wife, her 17-year-old son, and her 5-year-old son came out on the front porch, clearly not in any sort of distress. I immediately slung my rifle on my back, disregarded anyone else coming to the house in order to avoid a gigantic unnecessary scene, announced myself, and walked up to the concerned family and calmly explained the call we had received and why I had a rifle slung on my back. The wife said she was just grateful we showed up, and that she was glad that her little boy didn’t end up handcuffed with 30 rifles pointed at him.
As I was speaking to her the 17-year-old’s phone vibrated and his face turned red. He showed me a tweet he had gotten from a complete stranger that said one word: swatted. He had no clue who the guy was. I got all the information I could, including the Twitter account, did a report, and forwarded it on to detectives who would thoroughly investigate it. I was pissed.
Since then I have been on about a dozen more SWATting calls. While these calls are frustrating and unnecessarily dangerous for all involved, most of them are able to be identified as SWATting calls before the first unit gets on scene. Each of these calls has had several things in common that make them easy to identify. This is not coming from any empirical evidence I have, just first hand experience. Your mileage may vary by department and location.
First and foremost, the call is never to 911. All the calls I have seen have either been called into the desk officer, or the non-emergency line. I suppose the SWATters are fearful of the omniscient technological wizardry that is the enhanced 911 system. I have no clue how it works (I’m sure some of the Armed Intelligentsia that are smarter than I am can fill us in). The SWATter has an address and name picked out already, and often times find a way to make it appear like he is calling from a number listed for the SWATtee. Again, how this is accomplished, I have no idea.
The next indicator that the call is a hoax is that the caller states that he/she has either just either shot or stabbed a girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/etc. The call I mentioned above is an anomaly; most SWATting calls are two-pronged. After stating that someone is mortally wounded, the SWATter then typically will say that he’s holding his parents or children at gun- or knifepoint. This creates an imminent danger that the SWATter hopes will draw out the full wrath of the police department, elevating the danger level.
In reality, every single assault with a deadly weapon call I have been on has been called in by either the victim or a witness. This is not to say the suspect can’t be the caller, but when responding officers hear these comments coupled with the first indicator, the suspicion that the call is a hoax increases rapidly.
The third indicator is that the line disconnects. No grand farewell from the SWATter, no open line, no family pleading for their lives, it just disconnects. At that point bullshit alarms are going off in all of our heads, but we still continue on, albeit with restraint. If no other calls are received for a call involving a supposed shooting in a residential area, it becomes even more suspicious, as we all wear earpro for a reason; guns are loud. The supervisor will generally tell the units that it is a SWATting call, and by now, unfortunately, we all know what to do from ample experience.
The first couple units set up a loose perimeter around the house, and if weapons are out they are pointed down and out of sight. There are usually five to seven units on scene when contact is made, and all are generally behind some sort of cover, but only one or two will be visible from the front door. Dispatch is asked to make contact inside, the family comes out and says everything is OK. As they come out there are zero guns pointed at them. None. If, on the infinitesimal chance it was all an elaborate plan to use them as a diversion and I get sniped, well hey, I might be dead, but at least I never sacrificed my principles.
After they step out, two units walk up to them, weapons holstered, and the situation is calmly explained to the SWATtees. They are typically perplexed, and have no idea (or so they claim) who was the culprit. When a trace is possible, the SWATter is nearly universally located out of state, or at least their phones are. I’ve never seen a SWATting victim have any idea where the SWATting could have originated from.
A couple things I am sure will be noticed. For starters, note there is zero mention of an actual SWAT team responding in my anecdote. My department has one, and they are rarely called out, usually only after a subject is barricaded and shots have been exchanged, or a firearm is definitely aggressively in play. Road units, armed with run-of-the-mill AR-15’s, GLOCKs, and 870’s handle the bulk of SWATting calls, and due to our experience, they generally handle them well and safely without recklessly endangering the lives of those inside the residence.
Some may be miffed that we still form a perimeter around the house, despite being 90 percent sure it’s a false alarm. This is done on the off chance that it’s not a hoax and it’s just a really unusual, jacked up call. Maintaining a loose perimeter enables us to switch on the fly from being prepared to being ready to engage. It’s a good compromise between not scaring the piss out of those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of the SWATting call, and being able to effectively respond if it is the real deal. Falling prey to the boy who cried wolf syndrome could have disastrous consequences for everyone involved, including the family inside. Luckily I work with a good group of guys with cool heads, and we’ve never had to make this transition unnecessarily.
This is just how my department responds to SWATting calls. It’s not in any official SOP or policy, it’s just how we’ve come to do it. Note there are no busted down doors, kids being thrown into zip ties or butt-stroked, dynamic entries, or any of that operator jazz. There’s a time and a place for busting down doors and detaining, and the only time and place that comes to my mind is if an officer rolls up on scene and sees someone in a residence, yard, or whatever shooting someone else. Other than that, many of the departments that go way overboard need to realize that SWATting is a serious and prevalent issue in our society, and there are usually clues that you are headed towards a hoax.
I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on the modern world of SWATting. I think the main thing that all of us here on TTAG can agree with is that SWATting is an abhorrent act that endangers the lives of everyone involved.
Stay safe out there.