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NJ lawmaker trying to toughen ‘swatting’ penalty gets swatted

Moriarty received a phone call while he was at home Saturday. A police officer was calling to ask if everything was alright. Then the assemblyman was told that someone had anonymously called to report a shooting at the home, Arstechnica reports. Next, he was told to describe his clothing and step outside, and when he did, he was confronted with a crowd of police officers wearing flak jackets and helmets and bearing rifles.

“The minute I walked out the door — I was still on the phone with the dispatch person — I said, ‘I think I’ve just been swatted,” Moriarty told NJ.com, per Arstechnica.

So how does swatting work?

The Urban Dictionary describes swatting as a prank played out on the Internet. Someone finds your address, either through the person’s IP or because their name and location is known. They make an anonymous phone call to 911 and report a fake emergency.

Celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Miley Cyrus have also been swatted, and it’s a dangerous game, The Daily Beast reports.

Patrick Frey, a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, blogs about his conservative political views, and he believes he was targeted last summer because of writing about a convicted bomber. He received an email threat, and then a week later, a man spoofed his telephone and called 911 pretending to be him and saying he had just killed his wife. The next thing he knew, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office dispatched a SWAT team to his home, and that, according to The Daily Beast, is just what the caller had intended. Frey was handcuffed and sitting in a patrol car and his wife was dragged out of bed by deputies while their kids slept.

“It’s a very dangerous situation, and I think it’s a miracle that nobody’s been killed yet,” Frey told The Daily Beast. “I had police officers pointing guns at me; my cellphone was in my hand. If they had thought I was armed and dangerous, I was one finger-pull of the trigger of losing my life that night. It was very scary. It seemed like it was designed to cause us the potential for being shot and killed.”

Moriarty has called for steeper penalties for so-called “swatters” because of the October incident and another incident in which a New Jersey game store was very nearly victimized by a particularly dangerous swatting in March. As it stands, current penalties for false police reports only go as far as probation, he noted, per Arstechnica. His bill heightens these penalties, adding both incarceration and a fine of up to $150,000.

“If you are calling out the SWAT team, and they show up, guns blazing, at some innocent person’s home, and they end up having to break the door down, I think you should go to jail for that,” he told NJ.com. “You’re putting lots of people in danger.”

Moriarty, the former mayor of Washington Township, said he knew most of the police who showed up at his house, including the chief. He found out that the department had dealt with at least one other similar call in the past 24 hours.

“I’m thinking someone read about the bill and some sick, evil person thought it would be funny to send the police to my house on one of these false reports,” he said.

“If this is a practical joke, it’s not funny because someone is going to get seriously hurt or perhaps killed in one of these engagements that can go very, very wrong,” Moriarty said, per NJ.com. “It’s never fun to walk out your front door and have shotguns aimed at your house.”

This also hasn’t deterred Moriarty from the path, and he said the bill is tentatively scheduled for a May hearing in an Assembly committee.

Along with the hefty fine, swatters could be sentenced to prison terms as long as five to ten years. They would also be liable for the costs incurred by police and first responders summoned to a hoax call.

The bill (A3877) upgrades the level of crime any time it “involves a false report or warning of an impending bombing, hostage situation,, or person armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon capable of producing death or serious bodily injury,” the text of the bill says, NJ.com reports.

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