Swatting Incidents on the Rise in New Jersey

NJOHSP defines swatting as the act of falsely reporting an ongoing emergency or threat of violence in order to prompt an immediate, tactical law enforcement response.

Communities throughout New Jersey have been impacted by the recent rise of swatting, with over 200 cases occurring in 2015. Swatting involves a perpetrator making false claims of an emergency, often resulting in emergency responders arriving on site and disrupting normal activity. This response can divert emergency services away from real incidents, and cost the State and municipalities thousands of dollars per incident. In addition to dispatching standard emergency services, responses can also include deployment of law enforcement tactical operations teams, facility lock downs, and thorough investigations. Facilities under threat are often evacuated, leading to significant financial and productivity losses, even if the report is false. Individuals at these facilities can also experience traumatic stress following the threat of violence.

In New Jersey, recent swatting incidents have been primarily directed toward schools, malls, and hospitals. In one case, the Bergen County sheriff was targeted at his home. In March, over 14 towns were impacted by bomb scares, and on April 13, 2016, 22 schools were disrupted by the same threat. Swatting has also increased nationally, leading to additional FBI investigations since it first began reporting the phenomenon in 2008.

Historically, swatting has been carried out by a perpetrator reporting a threat to 911 dispatchers by telephone. More recent cases have seen telephones replaced by technology that is more difficult to trace. According to an FBI podcast "The Evolution of Swatting," recent incidents have been carried out using robotic voice synthesizers, social media, and web-based emergency reporting applications. The FBI has seen an increase in foreign actors paid to "swat" American facilities, often by a disgruntled student or employee of the target. They have also seen a rise in swatting against homes of police officers, judges, and politicians.  

State and federal investigators have seen a variety of motivating factors behind swatting incidents. Several high profile cases involve individuals looking to gain media attention to the incident, if not themselves. Swatting has also been used as distraction method online video gamers use against each other. Despite these examples, the majority of incidents do not appear to have clear motivations.