Lawmaker Cites Recent Incidents in New Jersey as Need for Harsher Penalties
(TRENTON) — Assemblyman Paul Moriarty is pushing legislation to crack down on the dangerous trend known as “swatting” after a string of recent hoax incidents in New Jersey drew large-scale law enforcement responses.
The FBI describes “swatting” as making a hoax call to 9-1-1 to draw a response from law enforcement, usually a SWAT team. The individuals who engage in this activity, many of whom are teens and twenty-somethings with ties to the online gaming community, use technology to make it appear that the emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone. The FBI notes that sometimes swatting is done for revenge, sometimes as a prank, but either way, it is a serious crime that has potentially dangerous consequences.
Moriarty first introduced the bill in November in response to a swatting incident in Millville where a law enforcement team swarmed an innocent family’s house believing a violent altercation was taking place inside.
Since then, a string of more recent swatting incidents in New Jersey — including a gaming shop in Clifton, a home in Upper Freehold and an elementary School in Homdel — have underscored the urgency of enacting swifter penalties for hoaxes and false alarms.
“This is not a harmless prank phone call like back in the day,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The very nature of the hoax is to draw a large scale law enforcement response. This diverts valuable resources from other legitimate crimes, puts innocent people in harm’s way and wastes thousands of tax dollars each time a team responds.”
Moriarty’s bill would upgrade the crime of creating a false public alarm to a crime of the second degree whenever the act 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.
Under current law, such an act is ordinarily a crime of the third degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. The responsible party would also be liable for a civil penalty of $2,000 or the actual costs incurred by or resulting from the law enforcement and emergency services response to the false alarm.
Under Moriarty’s bill, the crime, as upgraded, would be punishable by a term of imprisonment of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both, and the responsible party would remain liable for the above described civil penalty.
“To say swatting is troublesome is a severe understatement. We’re talking about elaborate hoaxes that have drawn teams of specially trained officers, sometimes resulting in the closure of whole city blocks or roads, and occasionally even causing serious harm, like heart attacks, to the unsuspecting and innocent people who have these teams show up at their door. It’s time to send a message that this is not going to be treated lightly,” added Moriarty.
The Assemblyman hopes to see his bill posted for a hearing before the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee in the near future.