Congresswoman Katherine Clark is now living proof of the premise that no good deed goes unpunished. The politician, who has championed legislation that would make “swatting” a federal crime, has now fallen victim to the practice herself. In a plot twist that reads more like a crime thriller than a real-life occurrence, Rep. Clark was swarmed by “long gun” bearing police officers at her Melrose, Massachusetts home. Police said they’d received a computer-generated call insisting there were “shots fired” in the congresswoman’s residence.
Such is the premise of “swatting” — a crime that has received considerable media and legislative attention in the past few months. In essence, a malicious individual places an anonymous call to law enforcement agents, supposedly tipping them off to dangerous activity in his or her victim’s house. Police, or in some more extreme cases, SWAT teams, then make an appearance, resulting in potentially catastrophic consequences for the innocent.
And while Rep. Clark was lucky enough to avoid any serious accidental harm, the incident was terrifying enough in and of itself. “We saw lights flashing outside of my house,” she told WBZ-TV. “I went out to explore. There were a number of police cruisers. There were police visible with long guns on my front lawn.” Both her husband and two children were also at home at the time.
“My family and I are grateful to Chief Lyle and the Melrose Police Department for their timely and professional response,” Clark said in a statement. “No mother should have to answer the door to the police in the middle of the night and fear for her family’s safety simply because an anonymous person disagrees with her.”
FBI estimates that some 400 swatting cases occur every year, for an average of just over one per day. Clark’s proposed congressional legislation would outlaw the practice — she recently introduced the Internet Swatting Hoax Act, which would address “loopholes” in laws regarding bomb and other hoax threats. If the bill were to be signed into law, it would make pranks like swatting punishable by up to 20 years (or in some cases, more) in prison.
New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty who proposed similar measures at the state level also had police sent to his home, and the problem remains prevalent throughout the nation.
“I’m relieved that no one was hurt, but the sad reality is, these hoaxes known as “swatting” are a danger to victims, first responders, and our emergency preparedness,” Clark said. “This is the exact reason that I introduced the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act – I want perpetrators to know that there are legal repercussions to their actions, and I’m committed to giving law enforcement the tools to deter these dangerous crimes.”