It’s been around for a while, but the problem of swatting – the practice of deliberately calling police to someone’s house – has only grown in recent years. It’s a harassment tactic which people have used to target streamers in the hope they’ll be arrested mid-stream.
Although some consider it a prank, the reality is much more serious – particularly if you live in America, where most police carry firearms. Only last year, Call of Duty streamer Andrew Finch was shot and killed due to a hoax call on his house in which the caller claimed Finch had killed his father and was holding hostages.
Swatting is very much a consequence of the information age we find ourselves in. The stream-swatting phenomenon, in particular, has only been made possible due to new broadcast technology which didn’t exist a mere ten years ago. It’s somewhat unsurprising that the police have been left playing catch-up. Until now, that is.
In what appears to be the first police anti-swatting initiative, the Seattle Police Department has introduced a system to protect members of the “tech industry, video game industry, and/or the online broadcasting community” from swatting attempts. The system, called “Rave Facility”, allows streamers to register themselves on a police database if they consider themselves a potential target for swatting. If an emergency call is made to their address, the call taker will share this information with the responding officers. The Seattle Police Department states “nothing about this solution is designed to minimise or slow emergency services,” and in theory, it should reduce the likelihood of innocent streamers being shot. America, huh.
Seattle Police Department Public Affairs Director Sean Whitcomb told Ars Technica the campaign was prompted by a citizen’s request to deal with swatting in the Seattle area. According to Whitcomb, since efforts to create the initiative began in June, there have been two swatting related incidents – highlighting the real need for action.
It’s not quite the first time a government body has taken action to prevent swatting. In 2014, New Jersey increased the penalties for those who made hoax calls involving “an impending bombing, hostage situation, or person armed with a firearm or other deadly weapon capable of producing death or serious bodily injury”. US Representative Katherine Clark has also introduced two bills to Congress – the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act and the Online Modernization Act of 2017 – both of which seek to amend the federal criminal code to make swatting a separate crime in itself. Unfortunately the bills have made little progress, and Clark herself ended up victim to a swatting attempt.
Increased penalties provide more of a deterrent, for sure, but the Seattle police effort should help prevent serious injuries or deaths caused by confusion over a hoax call. If the initiative proves successful in Seattle, it’s likely the idea could be mimicked by other American police departments.
Although the anti-swatting campaign is a positive step in combating the problem, it won’t be able to prevent some of the other crimes streamers now face. PUBG streamer Dr. Disrespect, for instance, has recently experienced two separate incidents in which shots were fired at his house. As streamers spend a great deal of time exposed to the internet, and typically do not have the same level of protection as other celebrities, streamer harassment is a worrying problem which government agencies may increasingly need to address.