Police investigate swatting situation

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - As a 21-year-old girl sat playing video games, noise-reducing headphones blocking out her surroundings, she had no idea a team of SWAT and other law enforcement were gathering around her home, preparing to respond to a reported hostage situation.

She got the shock of her life when she opened her door Sunday night.

"Right about 6:50 [p.m.] we received a call for service with regards to a potential hostage situation with a shooting that happened on the 5600 block of Lee Young Drive. Officers responded, ultimately corded off the area," said Springs police Sgt. L.C. Morgan, explaining what law enforcement thought they were getting into.

But when the bewildered young woman came outside, it quickly became clear there was no such call.

"As it turns out, it was a swatting call for service, where it's apparent that someone was gaming online with other people, and for one reason or another, that led to someone most likely outside the state sending a false phone call to our communication center stating that there was a shooting and a hostage situation inside the residence," Morgan said.

It's called "swatting," when someone makes a prank call to police claiming an emergency and provides a real address for officers to respond to. It's not just scary for the unwitting victims living at that address, but is a costly waste of time and resources for law enforcement.

"It's very upsetting," Morgan said.

In the instance Saturday night, the caller claimed he had just shot his mother and girlfriend.

"I think that people just don't realize and understand that when they do this sort of thing, it takes us away from doing something equally important," Morgan explained. "At a moment's notice we can be called or summoned to go anywhere else, do anything else to help anyone else. As you have seen, the number of cops that we had here on this deal, it's a pretty high number because obviously we want to work safely, we want to have the right numbers."

Morgan said that while it's not a frequent occurrence, the Colorado Springs Police Department does get several swatting calls a year. Neighbors told 11 News seeing the whole scenario unfold, from SWAT swarming the scene to the incessant banging on the door before the woman realized someone was there, really drove home the fact that swatting is not a harmless prank.

"I didn't realize how serious a thing that is until you actually see it and see the tenseness of it and the equipment that you realize that it's a very serious thing to do, it's a harmful thing," Kevin Fitzwater said.

Morgan said the odds of catching who pranked them Sunday night aren't good.

"Obviously we will capture the phone number where the call came from, but typically those are going to be dummy numbers that we will be unable to track down. We will try to do that, but unfortunately, the success rate is relatively low.”

For those they do catch, the charges faced in the future could be quite steep. State lawmakers have proposed making swatting a felony.