San Diego police say their agency has been the target of a rash of fake 911 calls known as "swatting" attempts, including at least three this month alone.
Swatting is a false emergency report meant to draw large numbers of police and other emergency resources, sometimes a SWAT team, to a single location. In some cases, the outcome can be deadly.
“We call it a hoax but there is nothing funny about this,” San Diego Police Lieutenant Adam Sharki said.
Swatting is not new. The FBI reported on the "new phenomenon" of swatting in 2008. But there have been at least four in San Diego so far this year, including three in the last three weeks, according to SDPD.
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In February, police were called to Canning Avenue in Clairemont for a report of a man who shot his mother and wanted to kill himself.
On May 4, a caller reported a man just shot his friend in an apartment on Camino Del Oro in La Jolla. San Diego police responded with several uniformed officers, a heavily armed SWAT team and a helicopter.
Nine days later, police were called to Mustang Ridge Drive, in Carmel Valley after it was reported a man shot his wife inside their home.
And on Monday, police responded to Briarpoint Place where it was reported a juvenile killed his mother and was holding his unconscious sister at gunpoint.
All four calls were determined to be a hoax.
SDPD Lt. Sharki did not hold back the department’s frustration with these nefarious 911 calls.
“It’s not just that it pulls police resources away from the community it also terrorizes a family that may have no involvement in anything," Lt. Sharki said.
Such was the case on Mustang Ridge Drive last Friday evening in Carmel Valley.
“You come into a shots-fired situation. I would expect them to have their guns drawn and cuff somebody at that location,“ said Keven Herold, who was a neighbor of the home targeted by the swatting attemp.
Herold, watched as his neighbor’s son was walked backwards at gunpoint and was handcuffed by police.
Herold said he heard the response was to "an incident in the house, domestic dispute, and shots fired and somebody was bleeding out,“ Herold said.
But that wasn't true, San Diego police said. It was a swatting report. After a thorough check of the home, the handcuffed man was released and police left.
“If you’re not expecting it and you make a wrong move, pull your hands out of your pockets too fast, things like that, I can imagine how that would go the wrong way. So, it’s scary,“ Herold said.
At a time when San Diego resources are stretched, swatting can only make response times worse.
“They are not free to handle other emergencies, some of them life-threatening in that neighborhood,” Lt. Sharki said.
Swatting calls are routed through computers and apps, making it more difficult for authorities to find those responsible. Still, police say those calls are still able to be traced and they're determined to find those responsible.
While making a false police report can be a misdemeanor or felony, police say it can also reach the level of a federal crime depending on the nature of the offense and the result of the police response.
In 2019, a Los Angeles man was sentenced for making a fake 911 call to Wichita, Kansas police, which resulted in the fatal police shooting of a 28-year-old resident there.