A quiet evening at home was smashed Monday when police, guns drawn, used a battering ram to crash through a man's front door.
But the homeowner and another man inside had no idea what was happening.
That's when police learned they'd been duped, becoming unwitting tools of terror.
It's called "swatting," and it's when authorities are called to an emergency situation that doesn't exist: a shooting, a bomb threat, a hostage situation, a mental health emergency -- anything that will attract a large emergency response.
On Monday, Rochester Police received a call from a man who said he'd shot his ex-wife and was going to kill his daughter and himself. He said he still had the gun in his hand. But after police crashed into the home identified by the caller, they discovered there was no shooting victim, no ex-wife and no daughter cowering under the bed.
Making a false report to law enforcement is a crime, but there are people pushing to label it domestic terrorism, a fitting term for a crime that puts dozens at risk of injury or even death. In addition to the unknowing victim, there are paramedics, firefighters and others risking injury to themselves and others while rushing to the scene.
The false emergency is also a financial drain on services and takes time away from actual emergencies.
Swatting was brought to the attention of the FBI in 2008 and the number of incidents has grown. Many view it as a harmless prank. But victims have included celebrities and government officials. In 2011, several conservative political commentators were swatted, posing a threat to our political system.
Swatting can also be deadly. In 2018, serial swatter Tyler Rai Barriss, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to 51 charges stemming from phony emergency calls he made between 2015 and 2017, including one that resulted in police fatally shooting an innocent man. In March 2019, Barris was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Swatting is an act of terrorism, and perpetrators of this crime should be treated as terrorists.