RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When a call came into Wichita police about an active shooter and kidnapping, a SWAT team was sent in with guns drawn. Andrew Finch was fatally shot by police when he opened the door. The call ended up being a hoax. Finch was a victim of swatting – made-up crimes called in to 911 that are designed to deploy SWAT teams. Representative Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has introduced several pieces of legislation to combat swatting and other forms of online harassment. She joins us now.
Thanks so much for being with us.
KATHERINE CLARK: Oh, thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: I had never heard of this term swatting until news of this case emerged last week. We’ve said it’s hoax 911 calls. But can you explain further? What is this thing, and when did this phenomenon start?
CLARK: Yes. Many people have not heard of this. But we have estimates that there are at least 400 incidents of swatting. And swatting is a very dangerous hoax when a person calls in a false emergency, usually reporting a shooting or a hostage situation, in hopes that the SWAT team – that there will be an armed police response to a home. You can imagine how terrifying this is for a victim who doesn’t understand what is happening, why there are police with guns drawn at their home, and how dangerous it is.
MARTIN: I mean, that is – that’s horrific. Do you have any idea – I mean, why does this happen? Why – is it vengeance? Why are people doing this to other people?
CLARK: This came out of the online gaming world and was done so that they could watch the police response as people are watching each other play games online. And it is…
MARTIN: So they can watch it live – happen through the game that’s happening live. Wow.
CLARK: Exactly. Exactly. But now it’s really being used in – outside of the gaming world in a more widespread way. And it is extremely dangerous, not only to the victims, as we’ve seen play out so sadly in Wichita, but also for police, who are making an armed response and don’t know what they are going to find. Obviously, this is a terrible situation for Andrew Finch’s family and for him, but also for the officers involved to have looked like they made the best judgment they could but have shot an innocent man and killed him.
MARTIN: I understand that after you tried to push through legislation against swatting, you yourself became a victim. Do you mind sharing what happened?
CLARK: That’s right. Back in January of 2016, I had introduced legislation making swatting a federal crime earlier – a few months earlier. And I was home with my family on a Sunday night, and we saw lots of police lights on a very quiet street that we live on. I eventually went out to investigate. I was afraid something might be happening at a neighbor’s house and was – had that moment of terror when I stepped out of my own house where two of my children were in bed and my husband was there and saw police with long guns on our front lawn and our street blocked off with patrol cars.
MARTIN: You believe that was some kind of retaliation for pushing that legislation.
CLARK: Yeah. We’ll probably never know for sure, but it seems like too much of a coincidence to be anything else.
MARTIN: So it has always been against the law to call in false 911 reports. So what is different about your bill? What does it seek to change?
CLARK: One of the issues we are trying to address with this legislation is that these calls can happen from anywhere. And, of course, one of the powers of the Internet is its ability to connect people. But when these calls come in from across state lines, sometimes even internationally, a federal law is going to help us with jurisdiction issues so that prosecutors and law enforcement have the ability to address crimes that take place in different states and, perhaps, even different countries.
And it’s also trying to tailor a piece of legislation for this specific crime as we see swatting being used, unfortunately, more and more across the country and be able to really use our criminal statutes to address this particular crime that we’ve seen go from online abuse into real life with real consequences for people at home.
MARTIN: Representative Katherine Clark – she’s a Democrat from Massachusetts. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.
CLARK: Thank you, Rachel.