EASTCHESTER, N.Y. – Following a pair of “swatting” attacks in Westchester and Putnam County, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has introduced legislation to increase penalties for perpetrators making deliberately false alerts that cost police time, money and man hours.
On Wednesday morning, standing near the steps of the Eastchester Police Department – where officers were deployed for a swatting incident just last month – Schumer called on harsher penalties for suspects accused of making false phone calls to police, prompting emergency situations.
Schumer said that swatting incidents have become a “national scourge” that create panic in the community, drain police department funds and causes a general nuisance for the entire area, as nearby municipalities are often needed to properly investigate the situation.
“When there is an incident, it’s not just one car that investigates; it’s the entire squad, and that costs a lot of money,” he said. “People get frightened and fear that their lives are in danger. This is a serious issue, and so much more than just a prank call.”
Under the proposed legislation, the perpetrators suspected of “swatting” would see a maximum prison sentence rise from a maximum of five years to eight. It would force criminals to make restitution for the money and time wasted investigating the false incidents and would “close a loophole to make it illegal for perpetrators to evade law enforcement” by disguising phone numbers through the Internet.
In Eastchester last month, more than 50 police officers from seven Sound Shore municipalities, including a SWAT team and Westchester County police helicopter, were forced to respond to a vacant Joyce Road home after receiving a call from a private phone number warning of a hostage situation.
Town Supervisor Anthony Colavita said the incident, which took several hours and involved the closing of several streets to traffic, cost Eastchester more than $25,000. It’s been estimated that millions have been spent on these incidents throughout the state.
“Each time something like this happens, we put our residents, and our officers at risk,” he said. “Our (local) police departments rely on each other, and these incidents create a disruption not only to our officers, but to neighboring departments and the county.”
Earlier this month in Garrison , a false report of a hostage situation in a nearby home led to a massive police response, prompting the precautionary lockout of several nearby schools.
“These dangers are not pranks. These swatting attacks are serious incidents in which our emergency responders use up their time, energy and resources responding to false threats when they could have been elsewhere protecting the community from real ones,” Schumer noted.
“What the perpetrators of these calls see as a practical joke is actually a terrifying experience for innocent bystanders, a business detractor for local commerce and a costly crime that forces our local emergency responders to use up thousands of taxpayer dollars on false alerts.”
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