- Swatting is the act of calling the police on an unsuspecting person and making false claims in hopes of getting a large police response
- On December 28, 2017, Andrew Finch was fatally shot by Officer Justin Rapp of the Wichita Police Department following a swatting call made by Tyler Barriss
- Seattle and Wichita both have swatting alert systems for people to flag their address if they believe they could become a victim of swatting
Around the country, there is a growing concern over what very few consider to be an Internet prank. The act of swatting has existed for years online—mainly in the online gaming community—but it did not receive any considerable mainstream attention until 2017 after the Wichita Police Department responded to a swatting call and fatally shot 28-year-old Andrew Finch.
What Is Swatting
Typically swatting is a form of payback following an online dispute. The process is rather simple. Once a person decides on a victim they will dox their personal information. Once the attacker can find their target’s home address they proceed to make the swatting call to the victim’s local police department with intent to cause the largest police respond they can.
The details of the call vary from call to call. The swatter will often claim someone has been seriously injured or a hostage situation is taking place. It is normal for the swatter to claim the victim is armed, which in return leads police to believe they are dealing with a potentially life-threatening situation for responding officers. This leads to an added risk for the victim’s safety. When Tyler Barriss made the call that resulted in Finch’s death he claimed he had killed his father, was holding his mother and sibling at gunpoint and had doused the house in gasoline.
Who Are The Victims Of Swatting
Swatting is most commonly done against livestreamers in the online gaming community with the hope for police to kick in the victim’s door on livestream. Just a simple search on YouTube for “swatting on live” yields endless results of live swatting incidents that span across multiple social media platforms. A popular video titled “5 Youngest Fortnite Streamers Swatted Live On Stream!” shows the victim’s age does not matter.
Police on A&E’s Live PD even responded to a swat on an episode of the show. The caller claimed there was a “child abuse, kidnapping situation.” In the call to 911, the swatter demanded a helicopter and said he was armed with a bomb, which led officers to believe it was a hostage situation. When officers arrived they found a confused younger teenager and no hostage situation. The call was quickly determined to be a hoax call originating from China.
While swatting is generally found in the gaming community, gamers are not the only victims. Celebrities have fallen victim to swatting calls as well for almost a decade. In 2012 a SWAT team swarmed the home of Justin Bieber in Calabasas, California. A 12-year-old boy was charged with making the hoax 911 call about Bieber and Ashton Kutcher. In 2013 Los Angeles police were investigating a swatting against Rihanna. Last year, Parkland, Florida shooting survivor turned gun-control advocate David Hogg had his house swatted while he was visiting Washington DC.
The Shooting Of Andrew Finch
Currently, Andrew Finch is the only known fatality from a swatting call. The swatting was unique as Finch had not even been a part of the online dispute that lead to Barriss’ call. Casey Viner had been playing Call of Duty World War II in Ohio with Shane Gaskill in Wichita. The two were on the same team and Viner got angry after his player was killed. There was a $1.50 bet on the line which was apparently enough for Viner to recruit Barriss to swat Gaskill.
Viner had been swatted roughly a week prior by Barriss who was mainly going by the name “SWAuTistic” on Twitter. Barriss and Gaskill began talking through direct messages. Gaskill roused Barriss in the messages and gave him a former address he and his family had not lived in for over a year. Barriss fell for the phony address and gave it to 911 dispatch. The address was the Finch house.
Police in Wichita surrounded Finch’s house. After hearing a noise outside Finch opened the front door to see what it was. Once Finch opened the door he was greeted by over a dozen officers to the North, East, and West of his front porch. Each group of officers yelled different commands for seven seconds until Officer Justin Rapp fired one fatal shot. Finch would lay on the ground bleeding out for over fifteen minutes before receiving any medical attention. He later died from his injury.
Last year Kansas passed H.R. 5204—otherwise known as “The Andrew T Finch Memorial Act of 2018” or the “Preventing Swatting and Protecting our Communities Act of 2018.” The bill increased the penalty for swatting calls in Kansas. Swatting is now punishable with up to five years in prison or up to twenty years if the call results in serious injury.
How Can You Protect Yourself
Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of swatting. Doxxing someone’s personal information is not a challenge for many online. Currently, only two cities have a system designed to protect people from swatting calls. In October 2018 the Seattle Police Department began an anti-swatting registry for people who fear they may be the victim of a swatting. This registry flags the profile for the address and alerts officers the resident is at risk of becoming a victim before arriving at the residence.
Sergeant Sean Whitcomb created the registry and had it launched within three months. The registry adapts to an existing Rave Mobile Safety product, a system that connects 911 calls to a profile of a specific address. Whitcomb—who says he is a big gamer himself—came up with the concept after being approached by “a well-known internet celebrity” who had serious concerns over swatting.
Earlier this year Wichita followed Seattle’s lead and adopted a swatting victim registry. The program is voluntary and open to anybody who believes they may run the risk of becoming a swatting victim. While the alert system is a great way to try and prevent future hoax calls, there is only one problem. Finch did not know he was going to be a swatting victim. He did not even own a gaming system. Sadly, Finch died completely oblivious to the online altercation between Gaskill and Viner.
While people such as high profile streamers likely know of swatting, there are still many people that have no clue what it is. Even in the Live PD clip one of the police officers had to have the meaning of a swat explained to him. Your everyday Joe with no ties to any online communities is not likely to become the next swatting victim, but in a direct argument, that is exactly who Finch was. An everyday Joe with no ties to any online communities. Unfortunately not knowing what swatting is will not protect you from becoming a swatting victim.
If you do believe someone is trying to swat you alert your local police department immediately. If the police show up at your house for what appears to be a swatting call do your best to comply. Chances responding officers may believe you are armed and either already have or will harm somebody.