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'Swatting' threats to schools take toll on law enforcement, communities

The cost of 'swatting' threats to our schools, law enforcement and communities
Posted at 7:59 AM, Feb 23, 2023

DENVER — Oftentimes, hoax perpetrators are seeking attention and reaction from the community, and we don’t want to help them in that pursuit. We also don’t want to encourage copycat hoaxes.

However, as at least 14 Colorado schools received “swatting” calls Wednesday, specialists point to a growing trend we believe you should be aware of.

Swatting is the act of calling first responders with a fake emergency to coax them into sending a significant police presence to a specific address

Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, says he’s been tracking a “spate of school swatting threats that has gone on for months” across the United States. He says many previous mass swatting events have been traced to actors from foreign countries.

“Swatting threats typically cross multiple school districts, multiple communities, oftentimes multiple states and originate internationally,” Trump said. “They create anxiety, fear, uncertainty about school safety, drain local first responders from other needs out in the broader community, and can extend over a period of time while the investigation goes on — oftentimes for weeks or sometimes months.”

While it is, at this point, unclear if the multiple threats to Colorado schools were coordinated, Trump says these bad actors often have the specific goal of creating chaos, confusion and fear.

“These threats typically turn out to be unfounded, not credible, but every threat needs to be treated seriously [and] investigated thoroughly,” Trump said. “There’s not only a massive drain of law enforcement resources, but also swatting fatigue and fatigue by school districts: the risk of school communities not taking threats seriously, becoming complacent, and not treating each one seriously when there could be one possible threat that turns out to be credible.”

Sergeant Ryan Scheevel with the Boulder Police Department says he was impressed by the response of students and staff at Boulder High School Wednesday morning. The entire school’s lockdown procedure made law enforcement’s job of evacuating and sweeping the school for the potential threat much easier.

“It was very obvious that they had trained for that,” Scheevel said. “I would implore all schools, employers, anything like that to have a plan in place.”

Scheevel was just a couple hours into his shift Wednesday morning when he heard a weapons tone over his radio, and dispatchers relaying reports of a possible active shooter at Boulder High School. He and his fellow officers quickly realized the threat was likely a hoax, both through conversations with school administrators and messages from dispatch of other fake threats being called in across the state. Still, they had to push forward, per protocol, to ensure it was, in fact, a false alarm.

“We went and had them go into lockdown, and then started going [on] a systematic search of the school, hoping that we weren’t going to find anything, but planning that if we [did] find something — whether it’s a suspect or a victim or somebody’s injured — that we have the resources and a plan in place to deal with that,” Scheevel said.

Even after the all-clear, Scheevel and his fellow officers had to rely on their training and support from one another to process the other great cost of swatting threats: the emotional drain it puts on our law enforcement, teachers, and students.

“Two of my kids are school age, so anytime we get a call at a school, it definitely heightens your sense of what’s going on there,” he said. “When you’ve removed yourself from you that situation, you really think about like, 'That could have been my kids in there.’”

This article was written by Rob Harris for Scripps News Denver.