Modernizing 911 Systems Could Increase ‘Swatting’

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A fatal police shooting in Kansas focused attention on how so-called swatting — prank 911 calls designed to get SWAT teams to deploy — puts lives at risk and burdens police departments. There are more than 7,000 911 centers in the U.S. that get 600,000 calls a day. Police say revolutionary changes in the works for the system could make swatting an even bigger problem, NPR reports. Detective Richard Wistocki, an internet crimes investigator in Naperville, Il., says what often drives them is people playing video games trying to get revenge on rivals. They make it look like the emergency phone call is coming from the victim’s home, which is what many believe happened in Wichita when a man made a hoax call to 911. That call led to an innocent man being shot and killed by police.

Big changes for 911 are in the works, including new technology that’s raised concerns about what it means for swatting. In the current system, devised 50 years ago, people describe emergencies on the phone. The new system, called Next Generation or NG 911, is based on the Internet instead of telephone technology. The change will allow people to send information to emergency call centers as if they are posting to social media. “It gives us the ability to access 911 using the same voice, video, text and data applications that we’re all used to using on smartphones today,” says Trey Fogerty of the National Emergency Number Association. The changes could also go awry. “You could conceivably have a video that is fabricated and is sent into a 911 dispatch center that appears to be one thing when in fact it is something quite different,” says Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. Spotting red flags will be crucial.

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