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Pennsylvania GOP legislators introduce bills targeting swatting

The Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Matt Rourke
The Pennsylvania state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

In early February, police in York County raced to a call “from a person reporting they shot someone, took another person hostage and placed bombs around” a Walmart.

The Newberry Township store was evacuated but eventually police realized the store had been swatted. That’s the en vogue term for when someone makes a false claim to trigger an all-out police response.

Swatting has increased across the country so significantly, the FBI began a database to track these incidents.

Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Lehigh, is joining three other Republican lawmakers to propose a legislative package to combat such calls.

He says they hurt people and law enforcement

“We are seeing an unfortunate rise in swatting incidents across our communities which are harassing individuals and taking away valuable resources from our law enforcement,” he said.

The package consists of four bills. The first would make it a felony offense if anyone is injured during a swatting incident.

Currently, charges for swatting depend on the circumstances and might include false reports to law enforcement and risking a catastrophe, according to State Police Lt. Adam Reed. The severity of charges would be determined by the district attorney.

The next three deal with civil issues such as recovering the costs spent by municipalities, granting civil immunity for damage done by law enforcement during an incident and giving the victim a cause of action – or the ability to seek judicial relief – against the person who made the false claim.

If someone suffers losses, Mackenzie said, there’s no ambiguity, you’re not getting tied up in a court case trying to make your claim against somebody.”

House Democrats will review the legislation if or when it is introduced, said Beth Rementer, press secretary for House Majority Leader Matt Bradford.