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Swatting is using technology to deceptively cause a heightened emergency response by law enforcement that may elicit the response of a Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT).

The latest high profile instance of Swatting that ended tragically in Wichita, Kansas, brought this closer to home for me.

The current chief of police in Wichita is Gordon Ramsay. Gordon was the chief in Duluth prior to moving to Wichita. He was also my assigned mentor from the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association when I became chief in Roseville in 2010. Gordon is a strong leader who is passionate about making life better for everyone each day. He was a great mentor for me, and I learned a lot about the power of positive community engagements from Chief Ramsay.

Over the years, we have experienced a few Swatting incidents in Roseville. One occurred at a local motel and several occurred at a large apartment complex. The calls appeared to have a racial undercurrent as each time the caller said a black male was in the area with a gun and threatening someone. Each time the patrol crews arrived and quickly determined the call was false.

Why haven’t we caught the Swatters? The answer is “spoofing”— a caller falsifying information transmitted to caller ID. It’s the same reason why telemarketers can call you at home and your caller ID indicates your own phone number is dialing you. How is that possible? One way is to use Google Voice to choose from available call back numbers, and then bounce it off a third party’s router with ill intent.

A quick way to disguise a phone number is to purchase a “spoof card” and choose the phone number that shows up on caller ID. You can buy one from Amazon and never leave your home. Spoof Card, the company, will offer you a number of valid reasons (including pranking your friends) to use their product on this YouTube video.

Another way to “spoof” is buying a prepaid cellular phone from a convenience store. Turn off the cellular capability and use only the data to make a call by using a Wi-Fi hotspot from the local restaurant, your neighbor, the City of Minneapolis, etc. . . . It is extremely difficult to pinpoint the hot spot in the metro area, as there are many. In addition, the dispatcher cannot see the phone’s latitude and longitude in order to locate the phone. I’m not too concerned that I gave away any secrets, as your typical teenager knows this, and probably more.

Minnesota law addresses Swatting as a crime with differing levels of penalty based on the outcome. In the Wichita incident, the case was helped by the suspect who bragged on social media about placing the fake 911 call after involving himself in a disagreement between two Call of Duty players competing on-line. This tragedy brings to light another important discussion to have with your children about online gaming safety, as most of the newer games are on-line instead of on the game controller in your home.

This post was originally published as part of the January 12, 2018 edition of Chief Mathwig’s newsletter, One Chief’s Perspective.

Rick Mathwig
Chief of Police
Roseville Police Department, Minnesota