HomeTop StoriesMinnesota lawmakers propose tougher penalties for 'swatting'

Minnesota lawmakers propose tougher penalties for ‘swatting’

SAINT PAUL – Minnesota lawmakers are considering increasing penalties for “swatting” — when someone reports a fake emergency and sends police and first responders to a location as a prank or form of intimidation.

According to current legislation, swatting is already a crime if it results in serious injury. But simply making that phone call is a major violation. House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, has introduced legislation that would make it a crime if the victim is an elected official, judge, prosecutor, correctional officer or peace officer.

It comes as these incidents have made local and national headlines in recent months. Schools, community centers and places of worship have been targets. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer said someone said incorrectly a “possible murder and hostage situation” at his home in Delano, and sent authorities there to respond.

Dozens of other government officials have done so as well also become victims.

“It puts those first responders at risk. It puts everyone who’s in that house at risk,” Demuth said during recent testimony before a state House committee. “We also know that swatting our first responders, our law enforcement and emergency responders would distract personnel away from what could be a real incident, so we want to increase this, but it will be a very narrow focus.”

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Washington County Sheriff Dan Starry said in an interview with WCCO on Friday that law enforcement agencies take every call seriously and consider any reported threat — from a mass shooter, the presence of a bomb, a hostage situation or otherwise — as credible until proven otherwise.

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A few years ago, a man in Wichita, Kansas, was shot and killed during a swatting incident. The man who made the hoax call was sentenced to twenty years.

“A lot of people think these are just jokes and they’re funny, but they’re really not,” Starry said. “They can be very dangerous and deadly and also have lasting consequences for the victim.”

If convicted under Demuth’s proposal, people could face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Under current law, they could see that fine quadrupled and spend ten years behind bars if the swatting incident results in serious bodily harm.

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It has bipartisan support and has advanced out of committee for possible inclusion in a larger public safety package that lawmakers will put together before the legislative session ends in May.

“I think we have work to do to protect those who protect us and I think this is one way to do that,” said Rep. Brion Curran, DFL-Vadnais Heights.

Starry believes a harsher sentence could act as a deterrent for some people.

“I think sometimes just the fear of a stricter law that could send them to jail can keep someone from doing this,” Starry said.

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