SAN ANTONIO – Several officers were dispatched to the Caterpillar Plant early Monday morning after someone falsely reported an active shooter. Police are now looking into whether someone "swatted" the facility.
Swatting is when someone falsely reports a serious crime to local authorities that would require sending a large police response, including a SWAT team, to the given address.
“Typically, they are calls of a hostage situation or active shooter type of situation,” said San Antonio Police Sgt. Doug Greene. “Then, we police get there full force. The people are surprised. It makes for a very scary situation for what we call the victims in this case, who have no idea why the police are showing up at their front door.”
Greene said responses to serious crimes, such as the ones falsely reported in a swatting attempt, typically require many resources.
“In addition to the SWAT team, you are going to have all of the patrol officers in that area, the fire department, EMS and hostage negotiators,” said Greene. “So it is very unfortunate, because you have people out there who genuinely needed the help of law enforcement, but have to wait because first responders are tied up.”
He said this not only frustrates the agencies when they realize it was a hoax, but also affects taxpayers.
“Family members are responding because they are worried about their loved ones, so they are distraught. Then, we have to evacuate the neighborhoods and then we have to shut down the streets which causes major traffic issues,” said Greene.
Swatting can even result in a deadly outcome, as sit did in Kansas, where a man was shot by officers after a person engaged in an online gaming argument called authorities to the victim's address claiming that he'd killed his father and was holding his family hostage.
Greene said that, in cases in which businesses or corporate buildings are targeted, he's found that the fake calls are usually placed by disgruntled ex-employees.
“It is just a way for them to have revenge or just to disturb their former bosses,” said Greene. “Not saying that was the case at the Caterpillar business, but sometimes ex-employees who have been fired or laid off would act in this manner.”
He said that, if swatters are caught, they can face state and federal charges, thousands of dollars in fines and even life in prison depending on the severity of the case.
Greene said that, if someone become a victim of swatting and is startled by a large police presence at their door, the best course of action is to “comply, comply, comply.”
"What we want to see in those cases is your hands," Greene said. "Always show your hands so that we know you are unarmed. Also, if you are in a position where you can call 911, call dispatch to inform them that you are unarmed and that you are willing to comply so that can be relayed over our radios. We just need as much information as possible to protect you and better prevent any lethal action from taking place.”
Greene said that, as of now, police are investigating the false report made Monday as a possible swatting incident. He added that, if they determine who was responsible for the call, they will deal with that person accordingly.