MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio (WJW) – Fake emergency calls designed to trigger a major response by police have become a dangerous reality of modern law enforcement.
Investigators say a suspect responsible for a so-called swatting incident in Mayfield Heights on Nov. 2, openly mocked dispatchers and eventually admitted that the call was a hoax.
Officers rushed to a home in a nearby neighborhood after dispatchers received the call from the man who claimed that he killed his mother and brother and planned to burn down their house.
During the call, the dispatcher could hear what sounded like recorded gunfire in the background.
“The entire shift responded to something of this magnitude, so we had five or six officers that responded,” Mayfield Heights Police Chief Tony Mele said. “The fire department, ambulance, would have been dispatched and put on standby at a location not far from there, until the scene was safe.”
When police carefully approached the house with guns drawn, they discovered there was only an elderly couple inside the home and that there was no emergency.
“It’s a shock when you have a half dozen officers that are heavily armed at your front door or around your house. It’s certainly not anything that you would expect, you know, for no reason,” said Chief Mele.
The dispatcher reported the caller then began laughing and admitted that it was a swatting call.
He claimed that he was in Germany and was part of a group that makes fake emergency calls.
“It’s completely reckless. These types of incidents have the potential to turn into a deadly force situation. You know, our officers are expecting to find a call of violence that they’re responding to, and they’re confronted with people that have no idea that this is taking place, truly innocent victims,” said Chief Mele, who added that the swatting call is part of a troubling trend.
In recent weeks, Mayfield Heights police have received three hoax calls, including one about an emergency at a local synagogue.
Investigators are now trying to use the latest technology to trace the phony calls, that can be bounced from country to country, and they are trying to determine how the hoax callers are selecting the victims and police departments that they target.
“Maybe it’s something where they think there’s a thrill behind it or it’s fun, but it certainly isn’t a joke to us. It’s not a joke to the people that are involved in this, the innocent victims,” said Chief Mele.
In response to our questions about swatting, the Cleveland office of the FBI issued the following statement:
“The FBI takes swatting very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk. Investigating hoax threats drains law enforcement resources and diverts us from responding to an actual crisis. Hoax threats can shut down school campuses or businesses, cause undue stress and fear to the public, and cost taxpayers a lot of money. The FBI works with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to gather, share and act upon threat information as it comes to our attention and often provides resources and guidance in these investigations, recommending cases for federal prosecution. We urge the public to remain vigilant and report all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”