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What is being done to combat the recent ‘swatting’ calls causing schools to lock down?

SALEM – Parents’ cars were already lining up for the half-day layoff in Salem on Wednesday when the school went into lockdown for a so-called active shooter. But there has never been an active shooter near the school.

“We suspected Salem would come up with one of these school shooter hoaxes,” Police Chief Lucas Miller told WBZ.

Because of this, his department was prepared for a rather tempered response.

More than a dozen schools in Greater Boston were locked down this week, prompted by the same — or very similar — 911 hoax calls. “Someone says ‘hey, I’m out of school and I’m coming to shoot,'” Miller explained. . But the entire threat is fake, designed to elicit a massive police response and waste resources.

“Crush” incidents have recently spread across the country. Last week there was a series of accidents in Vermont and this week in Massachusetts.

The FBI has estimated that thousands of swatting calls require a police response each year, and the federal agency is helping local districts investigate recent calls.

While the threat may not be real, the police response and blockade of the school is. “We respond as we would if it were the real thing,” said Concord Police Lieutenant Brian Goldman, who took a phone call to Middlesex School this week. “We don’t have a choice. We can’t guess and say, ‘oh that’s a hoax’ and then don’t go there and then something happens.”

Lockdowns can cause great anxiety for students hiding under desks and parents asking for information. “Obviously we were a little concerned and didn’t know what was going on, but we just closed the doors,” Salem High School senior Aaron Dwyer explained to WBZ after being in class for the brief lockout. “I saw a bunch of cruisers coming in rotation, and me being that mom, freaked out a little bit and started texting,” her mom Deb said.

Dr. Erica Lee is a psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital who often talks with families about the fear these lockdowns trigger. “I think the uncertainty of not knowing for sure whether our children will be safe is something both parents and children really struggle with. It’s really the main thing we see often as psychologists are children and parents who just say ‘I I worry a lot about my son,” she said. “When these crushing incidents happen, ‘I don’t even know if I should send my child to school.'”

The best thing parents can do, Dr. Lee explained, is be honest with their children on an age-appropriate level. “Even though these lockdown drills can be so stressful because they’re so weird, the idea that a bad person might walk into school, there might be an emergency, we might need to hide, and that thing can be really scary for kids. .. The more they practice it, the more they understand what safety protocols are… This actually provides predictability and a sense of calm if and when they have to do an exercise or when something goes wrong.”

While “swatting” has serious consequences, legal experts tell WBZ that more can be done to combat it at its source. “What’s interesting is that very few states actually have laws on the books to address or penalize anti-swatting,” said WBZ legal analyst Jennifer Roman.

Massachusetts has a state crime ledger law, but it only makes crushing a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.

However, many cases of swatting originate outside state lines. “The call is placed in Ohio, [for example]”said Roman. “But it was received in Massachusetts. Now we’ve implicated interstate jurisdiction so the federal government can get involved, the FBI can get involved.”

At that point, swatting is punishable by up to five years in prison, then up to 20 years if the call results in bodily harm, then up to life in prison if the call results in death.

For example, a man is facing 20 years in prison after a fake 911 call in Wichita, Kansas in 2018 that led to officers killing a man inside his home due to false information. The hitter “didn’t pull the trigger,” Roman explained. “A police officer did, but he was in response to one of the crushing incidents and the police responded with an appropriate response.”

Because of the alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars in manpower and the time crushing accidents can cost cities, Roman believes laws need to be stricter and more specific at both the state and federal levels.

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