Pranking police into an emergency response – it’s a crime new to Iowa called “swatting” and it’s costing taxpayers their hard earned money.
Three area police departments were targeted in the last year and have yet to make any arrests. The most recent came last week in Des Moines.
Lawmakers and law enforcement say swatting is a serious issue but in Iowa, there is no law that addresses it specifically.
“I think you could look at a charge for giving false information, a false call, or a false report,” said Senator Steve Sodders, a Democrat from State Center.
“Misuse of 911 communications, harassment of public officials,” said Sgt. Jason Halifax, public information officer for the Des Moines Police Department.
Anyone caught phoning in a bogus emergency would only face a misdemeanor charge with a penalty of a small fine or short jail sentence.
Sodders, who is also a deputy sheriff in Marshall County says “swatting” is a waste of tax payer dollars.
“When those types of calls come out you’re calling out your ambulances, your emergency management, you’re tagging out the fire department,” Sodders told Channel 13 News.
The FBI estimates each prank can cost a department nearly $10,000 dollars.
“Swatting” is an issue that the state hasn’t had to address in the past, but Sodders expects that to change.
“One thing we need to do as legislators is to sit down with law enforcement groups and find out an avenue to attack this. We need to figure out what the problem is, how we fix it, and how we find the culprits,” said Sodders.
Part of that fix could include a new law to deter culprits in the first place.
Republican Senator, Jack Whitver serves on the judiciary committee and says anti-swatting legislation would take a while to sign into law.
“Typically in the legislative process, it takes a couple years to look into the problem and come up with a good solution, and get the law passed,” said Whitver.
Iowa isn’t the only state dealing with the problem.
In California, lawmakers are considering a bill that would force offenders to cover the cost of a police response.