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Troopers investigating ‘swatting’ incident that triggered police raid

The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of a fire that turned this unoccupied house into a total loss on Monday.
Tim Ellis/KUAC
The state Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of a fire that turned this unoccupied house into a total loss on Monday.

Response to false reports of violent crime in progress endanger police, victims, general public, Troopers say

Alaska State Troopers are investigating a so-called “swatting” incident that led law-enforcement officers to raid a North Pole-area home after they got a false report about a murder and other violent crimes in progress.

It all started at around 5:30 p.m. Friday Feb. 22nd, when Troopers got a call that someone in the homes had been killed and others taken hostage.

“Multiple troopers responded to the incident, and pretty immediately determined that this was a hoax,” said Austin McDaniel, a Trooper spokesperson.

McDaniel said Monday that no one was injured. But he says fake phone calls like this can trigger a SWAT-team response -- that’s why it’s called “swatting.” He says just responding can create a hazard not only for the innocent people whose home has just been raided – but also for officers and the general public.

“With the troopers, local police, any law enforcement in the area, driving very fast with their emergency lights and sirens activated,” he said. “That in and of itself is a very dangerous activity that we reserve for the most serious incidents.”

McDaniel says it gets more dangerous for police after they arrive at the scene of the fake crime report, and for those who live nearby.

“Seeing officers responding in the way that they need to respond could cause law enforcement to misidentify somebody else that’s trying to protect themselves from whatever they think is going on, and presenting themselves with some type of a weapon.”

He said swatters can face prosecution for false reporting, harassment or disorderly conduct, and civil penalties. In extreme cases, they may be facing more serious charges, like terroristic threatening.

“So while this might seem like a harmless prank to pull on somebody that’s you’re online-gaming with, this harmless prank can have very real-life consequences,” he said.

He added that the investigation into the Feb. 22nd incident isn’t necessarily focused on an online gamers, but he says there’ve been many instances where it has led to swatting. That’s just one of many possible motives the investigation is exploring. He says the North Pole swatting isn’t the first that Troopers have investigated. And it likely won’t be the last.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.