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After a deadly swatting incident, police defend against hoax calls

A fatal prank call in Wichita in 2017 has had a ripple effect


Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Suzie Ziegler

WICHITA, Kan. — In 2017, a man called 911 to report a shooting and kidnapping at a home in Wichita. Andrew Finch, 28, was fatally shot by responding officers. But Finch was innocent, and the 911 call was fake. This kind of dangerous prank is known as swatting, which is when someone reports a non-existent violent crime to trigger a SWAT response.

Police are taking steps to prevent this from happening again. Now, the Wichita Police Department has a swatting alert system people can use if they believe they’re the target of a hoax call, according to KWCH.

Just this week the department received another fraudulent call about a hostage situation, KWCH reported. Police said the call sounded fake, and the caller’s British accent raised suspicions, but officers were obligated to take it seriously.

“It had the pretense of sounding like a false call from the beginning but, obviously, we’re going to take every precaution. Ultimately, we were able to find the homeowner of the residence and learn it was actually a false call,” Sgt. Brian Hightower told KWCH.

While two swatting calls in the same town might sound alarming, one expert says swatting incidents are decreasing.

Thor Eells, the executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, says the deadly Wichita incident has helped raise awareness for hoax calls. The national attention has inspired change in other states, like in Ohio where state senators last week introduced a bill to make swatting a third-degree felony, News 5 reported.

“Attention that [the 2017 case] received, coupled with the aggressive prosecution, played a large part,” Eells told KWCH.

According to Eells, tactical officers are trained on how to respond to potential hoax calls. Eells says successfully identifying a fake call requires good communication between dispatchers and responding officers. Officers must compare the information from the 911 call and what they’re observing in person, he says.

“True hostage situations like we might see in Hollywood or on TV are very, very, very rare,” said Eells.

In the 2017 case, a rival gamer got into an online argument with Finch and recruited a third man to place the hoax call, the Associated Press reported. Tyler Barriss, the man who placed the 911 call, is serving 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in April to 51 related charges, according to the Associated Press. Shane Gaskell, the man who solicited the call, pleaded guilty to wire fraud earlier this month and will be sentenced in July.