This guidance for school resource officers (SROs) and school administrators was prepared by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and Safe and Sound Schools regarding a recent surge in swatting calls targeting schools. “Swatting” refers to a hoax call placed to 911 that falsely reports an emergency such as an armed intruder, active shooting or other critical incident that necessitates a large and immediate response by law enforcement officers and other public safety workers, possibly including a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. (NASRO) and The Safe and Sound Schools.
The term ‘swatting’ refers to hoax calls being placed to 9-1-1 reporting an emergency such as an armed intruder, active shooting or other critical incident that necessitates a large and immediate law enforcement response possibly including a SWAT team.
While nationwide statistics on these criminal events are not readily available, in 2013 one FBI official estimated that hundreds were occurring each year including locations other than schools. Open-source reporting indicates a recent surge of ‘swatting’ calls targeting schools in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, and Virginia.
For law enforcement and fire/EMS, these are clearly high-priority calls that will result in lights and siren high-speed response. There are inherent risks in these rapid response situations for the first responder and the public. In addition, limited public safety resources are being diverted from other community needs.
These false reports also raise anxiety levels for students, their parents, teachers, and school officials. Recently, parents swarmed a school in San Antonio, Texas believing an active shooting was in progress. According to news reports, some of the parents physically struggled with law enforcement officers and one man punched his fist through a window to try and gain entry. The call was a hoax.
Given the risks and adverse consequences associated with ‘swatting’ calls, it is essential that law enforcement officers be able to determine the validity of the call as quickly as possible. Having a school resource officer (SRO) assigned to the campus will greatly expedite this critical assessment.
For schools without an assigned SRO, patrol officers who may not be familiar with the school will arrive as quickly as they can, but their response may be delayed by a number of factors, not the least of which is their physical distance from the school when dispatched.
In either case, but particularly the latter, emergency communication operators can play a vital role in ascertaining the validity of the call in the shortest amount of time possible. In most active shooter events, 9-1-1 operators are inundated with calls from the shooting site. Often in ‘swatting’ situations, one call is received. However, law enforcement must continue to respond as if there is an actual active assailant event occurring as delays could lead to the loss of life. As the response is occurring, 9-1-1 will continue to work toward a determination as to whether this is an actual active assailant event.
- SROs are encouraged to initiate a discussion, as needed, within their agencies regarding response protocols for ‘swatting’ calls at schools. These discussions should include the emergency operations center.
- SROs are encouraged to facilitate a discussion with their school administrators, staff and faculty about what protocols will be followed in the event of a ‘swatting’ call. This discussion should include an intentional focus on special needs students.
- Together, school administrators and SROs are encouraged to initiate a discussion with students and parents about law enforcement protocols that will be followed in the event of a ‘swatting’ call. Where possible, involving your school’s parent volunteer/leadership organization is highly recommended.
- If your school is the target of a ‘swatting’ call, debrief with all school community members afterwards to identify what went well and what needs improvement, as well as lingering adverse consequences, e.g., the anxiety produced by lockdowns and an overwhelming law enforcement response may have disproportionate negative impacts on students with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).