Swatting calls now a felony in Georgia (2024)

(Georgia Recorder) — Georgia Senate Bill 421, one of many pieces of legislation going into effect July 1, aims to increase punishment for those behind so-called swatting calls in order to deter future harrowing law enforcement false alarms in Georgia.

With new potential to face steeper consequences, Georgia lawmakers intend to counter the increased number of swatting calls seen in recent years.

Swatting is the colloquial name for when a person calls 911 or emergency services and invokes a response from law enforcement – often a SWAT team – by intentionally reporting a fake emergency. High profile people are frequently the target of these incidents. Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been targeted numerous times at her Rome home throughout her political career.

State Sen. Clint Dixon, a Gwinnett Republican, who sponsored SB 421, has also experienced firsthand how intrusive swatting is and how quickly it can go wrong.

Dixon was one of numerous Georgia lawmakers whose homes were targets of swatting over the December 2023 holidays, with several calls taking place on or around Christmas Day. Marks included Marietta Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, Stone Mountain Democrat Kim Jackson, Roswell Republican John Albers and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones.

The legislation intended to deter swatting calls sailed through the General Assembly with bipartisan support this year, passing 48-0 in the Senate and 162-2 in the House. According to Dixon, the toughest deterrent in the new law is the increased penalty for a first offender. Prior to July 1, the penalty for a first offense swatting call on a dwelling is a misdemeanor.

“If it is to a residence or a government building or a court, it becomes a felony first offense, punishable with prison up to five years,” Dixon said. “Then the second and third offense, those penalties, of course, are felonies, but then it increases the time in prison and the fine to help deter, hopefully, to keep these swatting instances from happening.”

Perpetrators of swatting typically call emergency services to falsely report a serious incident, such as a domestic dispute turned violent or a bomb threat. The caller gives police the address of their target as the scene of a crisis, attempting to weaponize law enforcement into showing up at the victim’s door with guns drawn.

According to Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, swatting is more than false bomb threats or homicides. It can also include falsely calling emergency services for situations like suicide prevention or requesting an ambulance – in essence, anything that requires first responders to waste time and resources as the result of an intentional effort to mislead.

Dixon recommends that for anyone placed in a swatting situation, the safest way to react is to obey law enforcement completely.

“Open up the door and make yourself visible right away, and invite them inside, and just listen to whatever they tell you to do,” Dixon said. “It can be a very dangerous situation because they’re on high alert as well, not knowing what they’re walking into.”

Both law enforcement and residents are at risk in a situation like this.

“If done right, the homeowner should be understandably startled by the aggressive entrance or by the announcements made outside and the presence of officers surrounding their home either way, but then immediately followed with a sense of security and teamwork if everything is done correctly so that they would be able to see the police were only doing what they were supposed to do, which was to try and protect the public,” said Chuck McPhilamy, public information officer at the Marietta Police Department.

The new law also includes a restitution clause. Prior to July 1, the court had the option to require a perpetrator to pay for any damages or harm that resulted from the swatting attempt. Now, with SB 421, paying the cost of damage done will be a legal requirement.

With technology ever-evolving, would-be swatters are finding it easier to commit these crimes. As a prosecutor, Skandalakis has seen technology make it more difficult to discern the source of a swatting call.

“You can have spoof phone numbers; you can do it through the internet,” Skandalakis said. “There’s so many different ways to do it, and sometimes it’s difficult to trace simply because you might be swatted from a different country. So it’s become more prevalent and more difficult at times to actually find out exactly where the call came from.”

Swatting calls now a felony in Georgia (2024)

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