A phenomenon where pranksters call in phony emergencies that elicit a strong police response is being used by video gamers in a twisted competition where their success is based on the level of that response, said a suburban New York police commissioner.
The phenomenon is known as “swatting.”
“From what I understand, there is a point system,” said Michael Tangney, commissioner of the Long Beach, N.Y., police department. “The fact that we had such a large response meant additional points for whoever did this.”
Last week, when more than 60 heavily armed officers were dispatched to a home in this oceanfront community outside New York City on what turned out to be a hoax. A caller using Skype contacted the Long Beach police on Tuesday afternoon, claiming that he had just killed his mother and brother and was threatening to fire upon first responders who were sent to the home.
Tangney said the caller, who has yet to be identified, apparently became upset after losing a game to a teenager living in the Long Beach house. Officers in SWAT gear surrounded the house and eventually went inside, where they found the teenager wearing headphones, apparently oblivious to the dragnet that had surrounded his home.
The teen’s mother and brother were found unharmed.
“When he gets taken out, we don’t know he’s not the shooter. He’s taken down in what we call a felony stop; he’s fully searched and handcuffed,” Tangney said. “He was what I would describe as the closest thing to being in shock. He was incapable of communicating for a few minutes.”
Police eventually realized they were dealing with a hoax, but Tangney estimated the response, which included officers from the Nassau County police department and other agencies, cost $100,000. He added that two Nassau officers suffered minor injuries in a collision en route to the scene.
Detectives have collected the names of people who were playing the game with the Long Beach teenager and are working with internet service providers to obtain additional information about possible suspects. Tangney conceded the suspected hoaxer could live anywhere.
A spokesman for the FBI’s New York office confirmed they are assisting with the investigation.
Swatting incidents also has involved several high-profile incidents where SWAT teams were dispatched to the homes of celebrities.
Last year, Los Angeles police said they would no longer routinely issue news releases or offer confirmation on hoaxes in an effort to discourage prank callers.