The House has voted to increase the penalties for deliberately reporting someone to law enforcement with the intent or hurting, embarrassing, or intimidating them; a practice commonly referred to as “swatting.”
Under House Bill 1704 a person would be guilty of making a false report if they intentionally make, or causes to be made to any enforcement organization, a false report that could cause bodily harm as a result of the emergency response.
“The bill hinges on the statement that it is with reckless disregard of causing bodily harm to any person as a direct result of an emergency response,” said bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin). “It’s an effort to keep people from weaponizing the public safety system to harm other people; sometimes physically, sometimes by reputation or intimidation.”
“This also deals with the use of the system to humiliate, embarrass, or have people forcibly removed from premises, and this is often aimed at minorities, aimed at religious differences, sexual orientation … recent news has been replete with that kind of conduct,” said Roberts. “This bill prohibits that kind of use of public safety to harm others, to harm their reputation, to harm them physically, or otherwise damage an individual.”
Those who make false reports that result in a person being killed or seriously hurt could be charged with a class-B felony, punishable by 5 to 15 years in prison. Otherwise, false reports of a felony crime would be a class-C felony (up to 7 years in prison) and false reports of a misdemeanor would be a class-B misdemeanor (up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000).
Roberts and other legislators have discussed in recent years how incidents of “swatting” seem to have increased, and in some cases those have resulted in deaths and serious injuries. Roberts’ legislation is the latest attempt to address that.
“Somebody will call in a false report that generates a response from a police agency, sometimes a SWAT team, which by its very nature, puts people at risk of injury or death, both the police officer and folks inside.”
His proposal was sent to the Senate with unanimous bipartisan support, 142-0. Democrats contributed to the language of HB 1704, and Representative Ashley Bland Manlove (D-Kansas City) spoke in support of it. She said she remembers a recent “swatting” incident that happened just across the state line from her district, in Kansas.
“Somebody he was on [a] video game with in California was apparently mad that they had lost the game and used an app to deploy SWAT to the man in Overland Park’s house saying, ‘He’s got somebody in the house and they’ve got hostages,’ so SWAT comes in hot immediately. Unfortunately the young man was a black man,” said Bland Manlove. “I’ve also heard of this being used, as [Representative Roberts] said, in domestic disputes. Somebody’s mad that they don’t have the kids or they have to pay child support so then they constantly use the police, filing false reports against the other partner.”
The bill was also the product of bipartisan cooperation, with the inclusion of changes authored by Representative Robert Sauls (D-Kansas City).
In addition to possible incarceration and fines, violations of the language of HB 1704 could result in civil penalties.
“Any person who makes a false report in violation of this section for the purpose of infringing on another person’s rights under the Missouri or the United States Constitution; unlawfully discriminating against another person; causing another person to be expelled from a place in which such person is lawfully located; damaging another person’s reputation or standing within the community, financial, economic, consumer or business partner interests may be required to pay punitive damages to the victim, so it addresses some of the more malicious forms of use of swatting,” said Roberts.
HB 1704 was sent to the Senate with two full weeks remaining in the legislative session.