DENVER (KDVR) — Earlier this year, several schools canceled classes because of swatting.
“Swatting” is a term for a prank call that draws a big emergency response, usually threatening a shooting. Swatting is already a crime but lawmakers at the state Capitol want to heighten the penalties.
This past February, kids across Colorado were sent scattering from their classrooms into blistering cold temperatures thanks to hoax phone calls warning 911 operators of a shooter getting ready to enter various high schools with an AR-15.
In 2018, lawmakers passed a law to make the false reporting of an emergency a Class 1 misdemeanor and Class 4 felony if the emergency response results in serious injuries or a Class 3 felony if the response results in death, but Attorney General Phil Weiser said it has not slowed the frequency of swatting events in Colorado.
“People who do this are endangering others and need to be held accountable,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “Unfortunately, too many people have thought, ‘I don’t really care. I’m going to keep doing this behavior.’ The impact of this behavior is serious and for school administrators and others who are affected it can be really nerve-racking, dangerous and even cause harm.”
The new bill adds a Class 6 felony charge for reporting a false mass shooting or active shooter event on top of the penalties already in state law.
“One of the challenges we have is that people calling in these false bomb threats or other scares may be from out of state. When it’s just a misdemeanor, it’s too easy to say it’s not worth it. By making it a felony, we’re making a statement and saying this matters,” Weiser said.
The bill unanimously cleared the Senate judiciary committee with bipartisan support Monday.
But sponsors were questioned about how many of the 62 people accused of violating the current law have actually been held accountable. AG Weiser acknowledges technology makes it hard to track down perpetrators but hopes the new measure serves as a warning.
“We understand that as people look at our current law. They wondered why there is not more prosecution. The fact that it’s a misdemeanor offense does make it less likely to be prosecuted and the fact that some people committing this offense may be difficult to find also makes it harder. With this law, we’ll have more tools and a greater emphasis to go after wrong doers and make clear this is not acceptable behavior,” Weiser said.
The measure now moves on to the Committee of the Whole in the Senate with support from groups like the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.