“People say we need religion when what they really mean is we need police.” 

― H.L. Mencken (attributed) 

Let’s get right to the point: “Swatting” should be a felony in Alabama.  

If the Alabama Legislature accomplishes anything in 2024, let it be increased criminal penalties for defrauding law enforcement and weaponizing armed first responders against the citizenry.   

What is “swatting"?  

From your friendly internet encyclopedia: 

“Swatting is a criminal harassment act of deceiving an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing an emergency services dispatcher) into sending a police or emergency service response team to another person's address. This is triggered by false reporting of a serious law enforcement emergency, such as a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation, or a false report of a mental health emergency, such as reporting that a person is allegedly suicidal or homicidal and may or may not be armed, among other things.” 

The practice is very common. I was caught up in a “swatting” incident one otherwise lovely Sunday afternoon in Auburn, Ala. Apparently, a few apartments down from me, someone had called in a hostage situation, and as I stepped off my stoop, completely unaware of my surroundings with trash bags in hand to visit the dumpster, a swat officer’s rifle was trained right in my face. 

Luckily, I must have an unshootable and disarming visage – or more likely the officer was disciplined and well-trained – and was merely told to leave the premises for a few hours until the situation subsided. Turns out the call regarding the ongoing hostage situation was a hoax. 

More high-profile examples also exist, with Alabama’s own U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville as one of the latest. Tuberville’s family home was “swatted” on Christmas night, luckily without fatal consequence, but with much inconvenience to the neighborhood and Tuberville’s family. 

Sadly, Tuberville is far from the first to have law enforcement weaponized against him on false pretenses.  

“A spate of false reports of shootings at the homes of public officials in recent days could be setting the stage for stricter penalties against so-called swatting in more states,” the Associated Press reports. “U.S. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost have been among the victims.” 

“The home of Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows was swatted on Friday, making her the latest victim in a string of such incidents,” The Hill reports. “Bellows said she’s become the victim of a series of threats in the wake of her decision to remove former President Trump from the ballot under the 14th Amendment on Friday.” 

And it’s not just politicians.  

Celebrities from Ashton Kutcher to Miley Cyrus to Clint Eastwood have been swatted over the years. High-profile online political commentators have also been on the receiving end of a false call.  

“We were swatted 15 times last year,” writes media personality Tim Pool on X. Pool was even swatted while live on the air in January of 2022.  

Even worse are false reports of threats to schools and churches:  

“Several North Alabama school districts were the victims of fake shooting calls Tuesday,“ WHNT reported in late 2022, “now law enforcement says the people who made those false calls will face justice.”  

More recently, Alabama State Rep. Phillip Ensler discussed bomb threats against his synagogue as part of a larger pattern of Jewish communities being “swatted” across the nation:  

"Our protocols worked," Ensler told Fox and Friends, "We got people out. But to have to interrupt a service for this was really, really disturbing and unnerving, but thankfully, everyone is safe." 

Though there are several federal laws currently applicable to punishing swatting depending on the given facts of a case, the crime appears to be scheduled as a Class A misdemeanor under Alabama law, eligible for a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine up to $6,000.00. 

In my non-lawyerly opinion, Alabama should increase that penalty. 

In the spring of 2023, Ohio started treating swatting as a felony, entailing a sentence of at least six months in prison, along with being on the hook for how much it costs police to respond to the false alarm. If a person is physically hurt during the response, the penalty could be much worse, turning into a second-degree felony in the state.  

The Alabama Legislature and Gov. Ivey should consider following Ohio’s lead and make it known that swatting will not be tolerated in the Yellowhammer State.  

Maybe my state representative, Phillip Ensler, as well as my state senator, Will Barfoot, can take the lead on this in a bipartisan fashion this upcoming legislative session.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 12 p.m. - 3 p.m. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]

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