Act 132: Making swatting a felony
WJI is taking a look at justice-related bills adopted during the 2019-20 session.
Act 132 made swatting a felony. Swatting is reporting false information to law enforcement that is intended to spur, or could actually spur, a response from a specialized tactical team.
Previously, some false emergency reports were misdemeanors or punishable by fines, though making a bomb threat and or threatening to release a harmful substance were felonies.
Under the new law, swatting by itself is now punishable by up to 3 ½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If swatting results in bodily harm, the maximum penalty is up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the swatting results in great bodily harm, the offender is subject to upto 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
The law was introduced as Assembly Bill 454. Its companion bill was Senate Bill 363.
The lead authors of AB 454 were Tyler Vorpagel (R-Plymouth) and Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield). The lead sponsors of SB 363 were Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Van Wanggaard (R-Racine).
The bill passed without opposition. Gov. Tony Evers signed it into law on March 3.
No fiscal estimates were filed.
Duchow – What began as a prank has since proven to create incredibly dangerous and even deadly situations. Some may recall in late December 2017 when a man in California falsely reported a hostage situation at a home in Wichita, Kansas that resulted in the death of an innocent father who had no idea why police had surrounded his home.
Wisconsin is not immune to this as dozens of swatting incidents have been reported within the last few years in communities all across the state including Hartland, Waupaca, Madison, Sun Prairie, Fond du Lac, Appleton, Janesville, Greenfield, and Marinette County. Each of these instances wasted an incredible amount of resources and put innocent lives at risk as law enforcement officers, emergency personnel, and even full SWAT teams were mobilized to a location where no threat existed.
Cowles – A good example of how swatting can harm a community occurred just last year in Dodge County. The Dodge County 911 Center received a call from a man who said he shot a man and taken others hostage in a house in the Highway 151 and Forest Road area between Beaver Dam and Columbus. The SWAT team arrived on the scene and began to enter the residence with the intent to free the hostages. Other police responding shut down the highway for over an hour. The SWAT team entered the residence and immediately discovered no hostage situation existed and deemed it as a swatting call as defined in the bill. As the investigation was wrapping up, Dodge County received a call for an ice rescue on Fox Lake. Sheriff Dale Schmidt told reporters, "Had our deputies still been tied up on the swatting call, it is quite possible our deputies would not have been able to respond as quickly to that incident, and lives could have been put further in jeopardy."
Other more recent swatting events have happened in Wisconsin as well. In April of this year, Hartland Police responded to a call from a man who claimed he had just killed his mother and was going to hurt himself. The address the SW AT team was sent to was a house across the street from Hartland Elementary South. The school was put on lockdown and the SW AT team surrounded the residence with riot shields and heavy weaponry until the resident emerged at which point the police determined no emergency existed. Another incident occurred in July of this year, when the Dane County 911 center got a call from someone claiming to be the mother of a woman who had a gun and was threatening suicide in the bathroom of her condominium. Police swarmed and evacuated the condominium, eventually entering the residence and found nobody to be present.
Registering for the bill: Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Wisconsin EMS Association, and Wisconsin Professional Police Association.
Registering against the bill: League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Inc., with the comment, LWVWI supports a primary reliance on alternatives to incarceration.
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