The House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would stiffen penalties against an individual who falsely reports a crime.
Sponsored by Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan, the bill (HB 371) aims to curb a false reporting trend commonly referred to as “swatting.”
“The practice of ‘swatting’ happens when individuals falsely report a crime in the hopes of sending law enforcement, especially Special Weapons & Tactics (SWAT) forces, to an intended target’s residence or place of business,” explained Florida Police Chiefs Association President Jeff Pearson.
Under the bill as amended by the Senate, a person who falsely reports a crime and prompts a police response that leads to a death can face a second-degree felony. The bill originally aimed to make it a first-degree felony.
Moreover, a swatting event that leads to “great bodily harm” will carry a third-degree felony penalty.
Not least, someone who falsely reports a crime may be on the hook for response expenses.
The Florida Police Chiefs Association supports the enhancements.
“Unfortunately, this practice has become more frequent, and its effects more expensive and destructive, both for the public and the law enforcement officers unwittingly put into those dangerous situations,” Pearson added.
Proponents of the bill note the danger a false report can make.
In 2017, a California man called police in Kansas to falsely claim someone was inside a Wichita residence with hostages and a gun.
The call prompted a police response, which ended with law enforcement shooting the innocent homeowner.
More recently, police raided a family home after someone falsely reported a murder.
According to a staff analysis, law enforcement later learned the caller watched the raid on the victim’s Ring doorbell camera.
“The overwhelming law enforcement response not only wastes resources and results in costs to the responding agencies, but can also result in harm to an innocent party,” the staff analysis notes.
The bill would take effect upon Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ signature.