Gov. DeSantis signs bill stiffening ‘swatting’ penalties

Police patrol car radio equipment and microphone. Walkie-talkie.
Swatting is a dangerous — and sometimes deadly — internet trend.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Friday that would increase penalties for falsely reporting a crime.

During the recent Legislative Session, lawmakers unanimously passed that bill (HB 371) to crack down on “swatting,” an internet trend in which a perpetrator intentionally and falsely calls to report a dangerous crime like a hostage situation or a murder.

Under the bill, a person who falsely reports a crime and prompts a police response that leads to a death can face a second-degree felony. Moreover, a swatting event that leads to “great bodily harm” will incur a third-degree felony.

Additionally, 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,” said Florida Police Chiefs Association President Jeff Pearson.

Rep. Chuck Brannan, the Macclenny Republican who filed the bill, is a retired chief investigator for the Baker County Sheriff’s Office. He is also a former Deputy U.S. Marshal.

During debate on the House floor, Brannan noted YouTubers and gamers popularized swatting.

In one case he handled — not a swatting instance but a related and similarly punishable case — a person called with a false tip saying he spotted a murder suspect in a different area than police were searching. The caller eventually confessed that he did it just to see police shift their search and only received a misdemeanor for it. Meanwhile, the suspect evaded police for two more days, and the ordeal cost law enforcement thousands of dollars.

In other cases, innocent people have died.

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. 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 DeSantis’ signature. He has until June 18 to sign it.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

One comment

  • Bobby

    June 9, 2021 at 9:52 am

    Great reporter, Renzo.. Finally someone tackling relevant issues.

Comments are closed.


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